The NSW Government’s new accreditation scheme for Competent Fire Safety Practitioners (CFSP) goes live on July 1, 2020. This is a compulsory requirement for all contractors signing off on an Australian Fire Safety Statement (AFSS), but what does it mean for you and your property?
Firstly, this is a long overdue initiative. In light of the recent fires across NSW, nobody needs reminding of the dangers a fire can bring to property and human life. The changes are not just vitally important for improving safety standards throughout the industry; they will have a significant impact on builders, building owners and fire protection contractors.
The changes are far reaching for the entire industry and like any new initiative, no doubt will be met by resistance in some quarters. However, the bigger picture here is that there will be higher standards of fire protection from contractors and far more accountability when it comes to fire safety for all.
Here’s how we’ve broken it down:
- Why were the changes needed?
- What are the changes in legislation?
- We already have a qualified technician – isn’t that enough?
- Will these changes affect our annual charges?
Why were the changes needed?
Surprisingly, the fire protection industry is mostly self-regulated. Legislation requires building owners to take responsibility for the maintenance and ongoing performance of the Essential Fire Safety Measures (EFSM) in their building. This means they need to sign an ‘Annual Fire Safety Statement’ (AFSS) each year to say that these checks and maintenance are being carried out by a suitably qualified or competent person.
And here’s the rub – how does a building owner determine who is, or who is not, ‘competent’? They’re left with having to rely on the word of the fire protection contractor.
Unfortunately, the lack of regulation in this area has left the fire protection industry to develop some worryingly bad habits. For example, contractors signing off on Essential Fire Safety Measures (EFSM) when there is an ‘intention’ (a work order) to carry out repairs but they have not yet been done. Or where the majority of inspections have been carried out, and it’s deemed to be ‘close enough’.
We’ve even heard of EFSMs being signed off to an Australian Standard by people who have not even read the relevant standard.
So is this improvement in standards necessary? Absolutely.
What are the changes in compliance?
There are many changes required, and it will be a long road before they are all in place. We have already seen the changes to the ‘Annual Fire Safety Statement’ (AFSS) form, which now requires the building owner and fire contractor to sign the same document.
The most significant change will be the introduction of a formal qualification for fire protection contractors that will include competency in each of the following areas:
- Routine Inspect & Test
- Preventative maintenance
- Annual sign off and endorsement.
Significantly, building owners will be able to check if a contractor has the relevant accreditation and be sure they are competent to sign off on the relevant Essential Fire Safety Measures (EFSM).
We’re a long way from seeing a complete qualification, but it is on its way. The ‘Routine Inspect & Test’ (I&T) modules have existed for many years, and Betta Fire Protection has always voluntarily enrolled all its Service Technicians in the scheme. As a leader in the industry, we are very happy to embrace any changes that lead to better, safer standards.
We already have a qualified technician – isn’t that enough?
Where a technician has the qualification to carry out the Routine Inspect & Test for a particular Essential Fire Safety Measures (EFSM), this will not be enough for them to be able to sign it off on the Annual Fire Safety Statement (AFSS) each year.
The person who signs off on the fire protection system should not only ensure the ‘Routine Inspect & Test’ (I&T) has been completed, they also need to have an understanding of the legislation and relevant areas of the National Code of Construction.
What is critical to understand at this point is that the Competent Fire Safety Practitioners (CFSP) can’t just review test results from the inspection and sign off from their desk. It requires them to go to the site and visually check every asset. Although they do not need to go as far as re-conducting the actual routine service, this is quite a dramatic change from the current industry approach.
But it is a necessary evil.
A technician can fall into the trap of focusing on the individual checks for each asset. i.e. ‘it is at the right height?’, ‘does the light last 90 minutes?’, ‘does the alarm generate the correct sound level?’ etc.
By contrast, a CFSP needs to look at the bigger picture and review how the Essential Fire Safety Measures operate as a system and evaluate whether it still meets the original design performance.
To have a Competent Fire Safety Practitioner follow the Service Technician around on-site will unquestionably increase annual fire protection costs.
On the plus side for building and property owners, however, price rises should be offset by improved consistency, reliability and dependability of the fire systems.
Further, the new legislation does allow for the Routine Service Technician and the CFSP to be the same person. That’s why Betta Fire Protection is currently in the process of getting CFSP accreditation for most of it’s Service Technicians in 12 of the 35 Essential Fire Safety Measures.
For most of our customers only one person will need to attend the site. Where a customer has an fire safety system outside of these 12 base Essential Fire Safety Measures, an additional CFSP with the relevant accreditation will be required to attend the site. However, they will only need to check the additional fire safety equipment visually.
Ultimately, however, we believe that upskilling our Routine Service Technicians to CFSPs is the way forward for the industry; better qualified technicians, a more economical outcome for customers and less hassle for the client.
Will these changes affect our annual charges?
Even where we can minimise the additional labour, there is still a substantial cost in getting all our staff through the accreditation scheme.
The legislation changes are still in their infancy, and no doubt it will evolve over the coming years. We are doing everything possible to limit cost increases to customers. We have put together a site-specific price structure that will give our clients an idea of the extra costs. If you are interested in knowing what the potential costs may be, please call us to discuss.
We will continue to release more information and amendments in the coming months. As always though we’re happy to discuss the impact of these changes in more depth or answer any questions you have at any time.