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Experts Say Skills Gap Could Lead To Fire Safety Risk

23rd November 2023


Competent fire-safety professionals could become overloaded with work due to delays in upskilling the profession, leading to safety risks, according to a senior industry professional.

Nick Pickles, systems and assurance leader for passive fire protection at Laing O’Rourke, delivered the stark warning during a panel session at last week’s London Build event.

Gaps in education and training mean that it will be a “good few years” before the industry has fully caught up with building-safety legislation requiring subcontractors to prove competence, he said.

He added: “I think the risk is that the people who are deemed competent, whether they are or not, will end up overloaded.

“There’s a huge amount of work that needs to be done. And it will either be done by people who are not deemed competent, or you will overload the people who are [and these] people become burnt out.

“And that’s when people make mistakes, they take their eye off the ball. If you do that once... we’re not talking about a leaky pipe, we’re talking about life safety.”

Pickles suggested the fire-safety profession needs an equivalent to the mechanical authorisation engineering profession, which oversees electrical safety in buildings.

During the discussion, Richard Fordyce, project engineer for mechanical, electrical, instrumentation, control and automation (MEICA) systems at Laing O’Rourke, identified the need for a separate new construction discipline covering the specification and selection of fire-safety-critical building products.

He said: “We need to have the right people doing these jobs, otherwise there’s going be no mechanism to get better.

“It’s going to be shoehorned into designers’ contracts, who may not possess the right [qualifications], or shoehorned into subcontract packages that may not have the correct design-responsibility insurances.”

He said that professionals from contracting, subcontracting, manufacturing and design professions need to work together in an “effort to start defining what this new discipline is going to look like”.

Mace technical compliance director Paul McSoley said shared platforms are vital for sharing information on fire-critical products between different professions in the construction supply chain.

Citing recent guidance from industry bodies on dampers, he said: “Those documents are about 200 pages long just for that subject.”

McSolely said that it was “really hard” to expect an individual to have the competency to select all the products involved in the creation of, for example, a single wall.

“I think the expectation was that architects will be able to do all of this but they can’t do it unless other actors are passing that information across a common platform that you can actually see.”

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