Industry involvement in fire-safety reforms will undoubtedly deliver better results for all.
Fire-sector reform is definitely popular at the moment, with an increasing focus on regulatory improvement, greater compliance and accountability.
Following high-profile incidents such as the cladding-related fires in the Lacrosse and Neo200 buildings in Melbourne, the Grenfell disaster in London and the Bankstown fire in Sydney, the lid has been lifted on poor practices and limited oversight in our industry.
In 2018, Professor Peter Shergold AC and Ms Bronwyn Weir released a report for the national Building Ministers Forum, looking at ways to reform the construction sector.
The Building Confidence report examined a range of activities, including fire protection, to see where reform might deliver better outcomes for the community.
Amongst other things, Shergold and Weir recommended the registration of fire-safety practitioners – a proposal that is strongly supported by Fire Protection Association Australia (FPA Australia).
In response to the report, state and territory governments have been acting to bring certainty back for consumers, reporting regularly on their progress.
One example is in New South Wales, where the government has recognized FPA Australia’s Fire Protection Accreditation Scheme (FPAS) for Fire Systems Design (FSD) and Fire Safety Assessment (FSA) in a co-regulatory partnership for at least the next five years.
Other states and territories have been looking at other changes, such as:
- Victoria has appointed FPA Australia as one of the two organizations assessing practitioners under newly restricted classes for servicing fire-protection equipment;
- Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania have been reviewing and expanding their own licensing and permit arrangements; and
- other states and territories are examining what registration might look like in their jurisdictions.
In addition, the Australian Building Codes Board has been looking at streamlining roles and developing a framework for registration to help guide nationally consistent decision-making.
Although we don’t always agree with some government decisions, in general we believe that accreditation and licensing will deliver substantial benefits to the community:
- they make it clear that individuals must stand by their decisions and be held accountable;
- they create minimum thresholds in skills and training, to ensure that practitioners meet acceptable professional standards;
- they specify the need for mandatory professional insurance and other protections for clients – particularly those who are not individually powerful (i.e. residents); and
- in certain cases, they recognize the potential that co-regulation has to help solve problems with the active involvement of industry.
FPA Australia strongly believes that industry is the key to effective reform and the appropriate registration of practitioners, working to ensure that both the sector’s and the community’s interests are protected.
The fire-protection sector needs to embrace such opportunities in an effort to make its practitioners more professional and ethical in their dealings with clients.
Community safety will not be delivered by cutting corners; consumer confidence will not be supported with unrealistic pricing or upselling.
A focus on the individual practitioner, rather than the company, will encourage more ethical behaviour and ensure a more appropriate skills base for the industry.
For our part, FPA Australia’s 2021 Vision sets out a plan to ensure that all fire-protection practitioners performing routine service are experienced, qualified and accredited under FPAS Inspect and Test.
But that is not all: our agreement with the NSW Government has also shown what is possible, and we are looking to expand FPAS FSD and FSA into other jurisdictions.
We are also looking at gaining recognition for FPAS Fire Systems Certification (FSC), to ensure that systems are properly certified against their original design, not just confirming what has been installed.
And our Bushfire Planning and Development (BPAD) accreditation continues to set the standard for expertise in bushfire-safe construction.
Clients need to know that the people they choose to keep them safe are up to date with the latest information and constantly looking to improve their skills.
Our accreditation categories are backed by continuing professional-development requirements, which means that technicians are committing to lifetime learning and development.
The end result of accreditation will be better performance, more accountability and a much safer community.
It’s a long road, and we’ve only just begun, but the benefits – to everyone – will be undeniable.