Standards in Fire Protection

The Fire Protection Association of Australia

The equipment used in the buildings in which we live and work must be inspected regularly to ensure that it is functioning properly. Fire equipment inspectors must deal with various types of equipment that are often quite complex. The problem is that not all states and territories have guidelines with regard to how the inspecting individual must be trained. The Fire Protection Association of Australia aims to change that.

It is very important to install and maintain an adequate fire protection system in order to achieve proper safety and that is why the equipment and inspection requirements exist across Australia. Even if the equipment is installed to specification, it will not be of any use if it is not properly maintained by a licensed professional. Anyone can see that the equipment is present, but a trained eye is needed to spot any damage, wear and tear or the necessary little details that make the equipment function.

Why isn’t a clear Australian Government enforced regulation in place for all of Australia? It could save lives and serve to better protect our property. This issue needs further consideration as it is presently incomplete. Having your equipment inspected by an untrained individual could be the same as not having it inspected at all. There are exceptions, however. There are some regulations that are put forth within the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Regulations from 1995 that cover some limited activities within the industry. However, there is still no strong framework for the licensing of fire protection workers in Australia.

Currently, the only state that enforces regulations pertaining to the qualifications that must be had by fire equipment inspectors is Queensland. Here inspectors must hold a license in order to be able to inspect fire safety equipment, and one must have their equipment inspected by an individual who is licensed.

In Queensland, the exception is in the form of the Building Services Authority’s (BSA) fire occupational licenses, which have set standards within the industry and have given the inspectors a place to start. These licenses give peace of mind to the end users who are having these inspection services performed on their safety equipment, as now all inspectors must be licensed under the BSA in order to perform an inspection.

The BSA introduced these regulations after the Childers Palace Backpackers Hostel fire that killed fifteen backpackers in June of 2000. After inspecting the location for a cause, it was decided that there was a need for a strict policy regarding inspection. It was an excellent idea and it should not take another significant loss of life for it to catch on elsewhere.

The BSA calls for all who work within the fire safety industry to have a license, whether they are carrying out the work or they are supervising the work, with the exception of a few tasks that may be carried out by electricians or plumbers. There are now twelve different licensing classes that each cover a different aspect of the fire protection industry, which is a testament to how intricate the industry really is.

The plumbing industry commission in Victoria has some limited requirements, but nothing tells what qualifications must be had for an individual to inspect important fire prevention equipment. It is very hard for an end user to determine whether or not an equipment inspector has any sort of certification, making it simple for anyone to open a company that deals with fire safety equipment inspection and charge a slightly lower fee than the other companies to get contracts. The fact remains that regulations state that the equipment must be inspected, regardless of what contractor inspects it.

The reality of the situation is that it has been in the shadows for too long, the Independent Productivity Commission has studied the chaotic and inconsistent regulations that are in place from state to state and has considered them to be inefficient. The overlapping regulations of the states and territories are actually impacting the Australian economy negatively. Travelling contractors who have certifications can even find themselves confused by the constant change in regulatory standards when working in different parts of the country.

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) has signed an agreement in April 2009 that would establish a national occupational licensing system for a number of different occupations called the National Occupational Licensing Authority (NOLA).

There are regulations that exist for some trades that state specific rules for working around or on fire safety equipment. For instance the NOLA states minor regulations pertaining to certain activities associated with fire equipment systems that have electrical parts. NOLA has also released a regulation impact statement for plumbing and gas fitting, which definitely has a place within the fire safety industry. Nevertheless, there is no indication as to whether or not NOLA will ever review specifics relating to the fire safety industry.

Governed by a board of directors, the Fire Protection Association of Australia is a non profit organisation with its head office in Melbourne. From there, its members are able to provide information and facts that relate to fire safety by deploying a range of services to the community and the industry as part of their accreditation scheme. The goal is to provide a voluntary program that will attract members of the industry who wish to be promoted as certified practitioners, which would tell the end user that their property is in good hands. Not only that, but the program would be a great promotion tool for any company that wishes to obtain certification.

The Fire Protection Accreditation Scheme will allow end users to identify a certified individual by an identification card that will also display how much experience that individual actually has. Those who decide to undertake and achieve certification can enter under two different accreditation pathways, one being the experienced pathway and the other being the qualified pathway.

The experienced pathway will tell the customer that the inspector has worked in the field and has been accredited for quite some time. These individuals hold necessary skills but have not quite completed the Fire Protection Accreditation Scheme. They are, however, on their way to becoming accredited and will move to qualified status once twenty four months of working to obtain additional units of competency is complete.

The qualified pathway recognises those who have obtained all units of competency required to undertake actual inspection work. Some of these individuals are qualified in a few different work categories and some have become qualified to work in all twelve categories of the fire protection field. A worker who is only qualified to inspect fire hydrant systems should not be inspecting portable fire equipment and fire hose reels.

Appropriately, any business that has employees must have them qualified to inspect any fire safety equipment that they service or sell. Each employee will hold one of three accreditation cards, qualified green, experienced blue or trainee yellow and the reverse side of the cards will list what exactly the inspection worker is qualified to inspect. Of course, blue and yellow are only transitional periods on the individual’s way to a qualified status.

Each applicant would have exactly twenty four months to obtain his or her units of competency. Currently, the program is in the stage of finding out whether all of the components of the program will mesh well with any current regulations and that there are enough components to cover all of the bases. The program will not be possible without the fees that are required (a detailed fee structure will be released soon with any other details relating to the scheme) for an individual to enter the program, but the investment will not be one made in vain.

According to the FPA website, “Our Mission is to work with government, corporate and community organisations for the continuous improvement in legislation, standards, education, awareness, products and services for the protection of life, property and the environment from fire and related emergencies.”

Hopefully, as the FPAS becomes active in ensuring that fire safety is properly regulated as it should have been all along, there will soon be no need for any other action from the government other than making the FPAS the official certification standard for fire protection equipment in Australia.

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June 21, 2018, 6:39 AM AEST