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Procuring a fire protection specialist  

Five important considerations for procurement managers when contracting a fire protection specialist

When it comes to fire protection equipment and systems, it can be challenging for procurement managers of national organisations. Not only do they need to consider the safety regulations in each state and territory, but they also need to ensure the equipment and systems are regularly inspected and maintained so they perform as intended in the event of a fire emergency.

Both legal, safety and ethical elements make it crucial in selecting a fire protection provider that has relevant operational experience, technical expertise, and licences. Without proper credentials, compliance can be compromised and in the event of a fire, lives and property put at risk.

John Lynch, General Manager of Business Services at Wormald, lists the following considerations managers should take note of.

  • Price versus compliance: With a whole list of regulations to comply with and varying requirements in each state and territory, achieving fire safety compliance can be costly in the short-term. However, when it comes to selecting a fire protection provider, its risky to appoint a contractor based on price alone as it can mean compromising compliance and best practice process that can put the business at risk of penalties. Fire safety breaches can also result in indirect costs such as personal liability and damage to a company’s reputation or brand.
  • Consider the legal implications of compliance: When selecting a fire protection company, consider how negligent practices can impact the organisation and the risk that non-compliant fire systems can have on the business.An investigation into a company’s regulatory operations, prosecution, a conviction by settlement or by trial can be very costly in terms of representation and penalties, not to mention causing a huge reputational issue for the business. Cutting compliance is simply not worth the risk and procurement managers are encouraged to review their compliance programs by undertaking a fire safety audit and upgrade their protection process accordingly.Always work with a reputable fire protection company that holds appropriate public liability insurance and professional indemnity insurance. The Fire Protection Association of Australia’s (FPAA) Providers of Choice are bound by a Stringent Code of Practice that requires insurance cover for public liability and professional indemnity.
  • Ensure providers are adequately resourced and licensed: with an increasing number of start-up fire protection businesses entering the industry, the challenge for procurement managers when selecting a fire service provider is to ensure these businesses are adequately staffed and hold the appropriate licences. While a new wave of start-ups may help to keep the industry competitive and fluid in delivering service to customers, the increasing level of compliance can put small scale fire protection businesses under pressure, causing them to cut corners and in turn, compromise compliance.

Many smaller operators are not equipped to manage the needs of national, at-scale clients and will outsource the work to regional contractors. However, in the fire protection industry, outsourcing is risky as the contractor can lose control over what is happening at a local level, resulting in a slip in compliance.

Licences also vary between states and territories and unfortunately, some providers do not hold all the necessary licenses. It is important to address this during the procurement process. Always select a fire protection provider that holds all required state and federal licences or certifications, and whose staff are suitably qualified in all practicing activities.

  • The importance of visibility: For national organisations with multiple sites, having full visibility around the compliance requirements for each site is very important.  If a business has not already done so, moving to the 2012 version of the AS 1851 standard across all Australian properties is recommended. The 2012 version of the Standard has removed the requirement for a specific technical specification to be written and attached to fire maintenance contracts – saving significant time and financial resources. Organisations can now engage contractors by referencing the Standard to ensure they are protected from changes as they occur.

However, businesses must be realistic in their approach to the Standard given the likelihood they are occupying buildings of varying ages, which will each have their own individual fire protection requirements and systems to maintain. While the Standard provides guidelines on how to achieve this, keeping up with each building’s requirements, approaches and methodologies can be complicated. This is where a reputable fire protection specialist can provide invaluable advice.

Using a digital portal to keep track of national compliance requirements for individual sites can ensure nothing is overlooked; everything from emergency and exit lighting, egress paths, sprinkler head clearance and emergency power supplies are checked and logged with alerts issuing a notification when something needs actioning. Support for ongoing fire safety compliance can be undertaken in conjunction with a preventative maintenance program which is helpful for multi-national clients who have many sites to manage.

  • Fire risk management and mitigation: When it comes to fire risk assessments, companies should not cut corners by failing to address any faults or non-compliance recommendations. Not being compliant puts lives at risk and there are serious implications in the event of a fire emergency if it is proven the company did not have compliant fire safety equipment and systems in place.

Fire risk assessments follow seven critical steps:

  1. Consider the hazards
  2. Ensure buildings meet the required code and compliance levels
  3. Regularly inspect buildings and equipment
  4. Build employee and awareness training programs
  5. Designate internal safety officers
  6. Take appropriate action on identified hazards
  7. Formalise fire prevention strategies and plans

As more buildings return to occupancy after being vacant due to COVID-19, there has never been a more important time to ensure fire systems in buildings are compliant. Buildings must continue to be inspected and maintained to ensure they are operating in accordance with their design intent and purpose.

If your business is looking to address fire protection, Wormald has decades of experience in helping building owners, managers and landlords meet their fire safety obligations. For further information contact Wormald on 133 166.