In our series of articles on the Core Principles of Fire Protection Regulation, NFIA has previously explained that for the industry to be at its best there must be a comprehensive system of contractor registration across all occupations involved in the design, installation, maintenance and certification of fire protection systems in all Australian jurisdictions. The only way to ensure the integrity of a licensing scheme is to align national training packages with accreditation categories, scopes and prescribed activities.
The final principles of good fire protection are that all regulation must be enforceable and any licensing or registration scheme must be government run.
If we introduce an independent, standard, consistent national registration system, then we must align it with an independent, standard and consistent compliance and policing system. When investigating the causes of the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy Dame Judith Hackett in her final report: Building a Safer Future – Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety said “where enforcement is necessary, it is often not pursued. Where it is pursued, the penalties are so small as to be an ineffective deterrent”. She recommended that within the scope of a new regulatory framework there needed to be more rigorous enforcement powers that align with the Health and Safety at Work Act.
Sadly, NFIA data suggests that only approximately 20% of submitted fire protection system defects in Australia are generally acted on by building owners because there is little enforcement of building owner lodgement of required annual reporting, within the required timeframe.
Low defect rectification levels in an environment without any policing and penalty, disincentivises quality work and emboldens cowboy operators. The solution is to strengthen building owners’ accountability for the fire safety of their building by enabling the regulator to impose robust penalties for non-compliance with annual building owner reporting requirements plus robust penalties for not acting on defect rectification reporting by the fire protection service provider.
The final Core Principle of Good Fire Protection is that it must be government run.
Industry self-regulation does not work. In the Building Confidence Report, Shergold and Weir wrote that “we found that, until relatively recently, there has been almost no effective regulatory oversight of the commercial building industry by regulators. Those involved in high-rise construction have been left largely to their own devices”. They went on to say that this has “led to diminishing public confidence that the building and construction industry can deliver compliant, safe buildings which will perform to the expected standards over the long term”. They referred to numerous reports which identify the prevalence of serious compliance failures in recently constructed buildings.
Industry run accreditation schemes also don’t work because, in our view, they will always suffer the perception that they are being run to the benefit of the members of the industry and not in the interests of the community.
Unfortunately, the NSW Government is enabling non-governmental agencies to administer an accreditation scheme for fire safety practitioner registration. As it currently stands, the NSW private industry accrediting authority may decide itself the categories of accreditation and the qualifications that are required for any individual applying in any registered practitioner category. So, you could have a situation where an accrediting body does not recognise nationally recognised trade qualifications as evidence of educational competence but rather could require that all practitioners undergo their own in-house training course that is not recognised by ASQA, is not a nationally recognised trade qualification and may have serious gaps in its coverage. There is no way that an outcome like this promotes good fire protection and reduce fire safety risk!
The public needs to have confidence and trust in the independence of regulators and their decisions. So, it is fundamental that the regulator be free from interference and undue influence from the sector being regulated.
NFIA believes that only the Government is best placed to ensure that the interests of the community are met in an independent and unbiased manner without the higher “conflict of interest” risk associated with industry or self regulation of members.
Why the Core Principles of Fire Protection Regulation are so important.
We all know that a properly working fire protection system saves lives in the event of a fire and if not installed or maintained correctly the results can be devastating. Therefore, because the consequences can be so devastating NFIA believes that a strong regulatory system for fire protection is absolutely imperative.
Malcolm K. Sparrow, a Professor of the Practice of Public Management at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government has been promoting a harms approach to regulation for years. “As the potential for harm to occur increases, a regulator’s efforts to address the impact of those harms must increase”.
Dame Judith Hackitt put it best when she said in her Building a Safer Future Report, “complex systems that are designed for residential multi-occupancy must be subject to a higher level of regulatory oversight that is proportionate to the number of people who are potentially put at risk”.
In summary, fire protection is an occupation that should require robust and stringent regulatory oversight because the consequences of getting it wrong can be so incredibly devastating. The 4 Core Principles of Good Fire Protection Regulation are:
- Registration of Fire Protection Practitioners;
- Appropriately Trained Fire Protection Practitioners;
- Enforceable; and
- Government Run.