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87% of your fire and smoke doors are probably non-compliant!

In 2008, a study by R Doleman (see below) found that 87% of 160 audited fire and smoke doors were non-compliant with over 935 failure items!

(Approx reading time: less than 6 mins)

Robert, thank you for your study because it proves what we’ve been thinking for a long time: some contractors are just not up to the job.

A key question for anyone employing service providers and by extension their contractors, sub-sub-sub-contractors etc, is are they “competent” persons? If not,

The ramifications ……. could be severe, with loss of life, criminal negligence and financial hardship, adverse media attention and social stigma.

Based on his study, Robert makes some critical observations (page 50)

  • The degree of current maintenance service providers do not comply or understand the application of the relevant codes and standards.
  • The level of expertise held by the external contractor performing the audit appears to have a level of knowledge with regards to the standards and auditing process below that required to perform the auditing, as stated within AS 4655:2005, (our emphasis)
  • The fire industry although self regulating appears to be ineffective in maintaining compliance. (This is changing with recent moves to formal accreditation.)
  • No government licencing and certification requirements that would creating (sic) an industry of people suitably qualified for the role they performed.

So, even though the study was carried out in 2008, we believe the findings are valid today,

  • not all contractors are competent
  • not even all auditors are competent
  • lack of licencing is a major problem allowing unqualified persons to enter the industry.

A direct issue for property owners in NSW is that under the requirements for submitting the Annual Fire Safety Statement, “The owner must also provide a written opinion that the person or persons chosen are competent to perform the fire safety inspection.” i.e. the owner is responsible for ensuring the maintenance person is competent.

Recommendations: Trust but verify!

So how do you minimise risk and maximise compliance? Here are a few simple steps to maximise competence and by extension, compliance.

1. Request copies of licences

Where licensing does exist, request copies of licences for all staff and contractors who carry out work on your premises. This should include any and all sub-sub-sub-contractors employed by your lead contractor as ultimately, you are responsible. Also, do not simply accept a list of names and numbers, request a picture or a photocopy especially if the details are on the back, e.g. plumbers licences in Australia.

2. Request CV’s from competent persons/practitioners

For industries which rely on “competent” persons/practitioners or where no formal licences exist, consider asking your competent persons to submit a CV, demonstrating their competence. The NSW Govt publication “Selecting a competent fire safety practitioner” provides some good ideas, e.g. the CV should include any relevant qualifications, relevant formal training, relevant professional recognition and relevant experience in the last five years, to ensure they are keeping themselves up to date.

3. Request proof of competency for equipment used

If the work requires the use of equipment; forklifts, test equipment, breathing equipment, etc, request proof of competency they have been trained in the correct use of that equipment. If it’s not too onerous, some of our clients even require their contractors to refresh their training every 5 years.

4. Request proof of specialised training

For specialised industries and high-risk work, also request proof of training/qualifications for things like working at heights, working in enclosed spaces etc.

5. Request copies of test results

If the maintenance/compliance work includes pass/fail tests, request that test results are attached to the compliance certificate, even for something as simple as Test& Tag (PAT) and RCD checks. For example, if someone is electrocuted, the best way to demonstrate WHS compliance is by producing the test results to show that the equipment had been tested and passed, was tested by a competent person and was being maintained in accordance with the standards.

6. Do not accept invoices in lieu of compliance certificates

We’ve seen some contractors simply present an invoice as proof that the work was carried out. As a minimum, your contractors should state the work they have carried out and the standard to which they have maintained the equipment. In this day and age, setting up a word or powerpoint template isn’t difficult.

Conclusions

Under WHS legislation, you are responsible for your staff, your visitors, your contractors, including sub-sub-sub-contractors so you have to ensure compliance work is carried out by a licensed or “competent” person. This responsibility cannot be passed on to your contractor and if anything happens to anyone on your property, your organisation will be investigated by the relevant authorities.

We hope these recommendations will help you craft a process to ensure you are using licensed or competent contractors and that your maintenance and WHS is compliant.

Thanks and citation

Doleman, R. (2008). A study of compliance in aged care facilities with regards to Australian Standards 1851:2006 maintenance of fire protection systems and equipment section 17. Retrieved from http://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses_hons/1021

and my thanks to Paige Han Huipin, a post graduate at the University of Melbourne who pointed me to this thesis.

If you think this task is overwhelming, get in touch.

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