Power to the people


Power to the people

Don’t worry, I don’t want to start a revolution, but reading the syllabus for Element 1.3 of the NEBOSH National Certificate in Fire Safety and Risk Management (FC1.3) cast my mind back to the late 1970s (giving my age away, now!) when the sitcom Citizen Smith was on our TV screens, and main character ‘Wolfie’ Smith’s catchphrase was ‘Power to the People’.

In my experience of delivering Element 1.3 there is often some misunderstanding and confusion in relation to its title – ‘The roles and powers of enforcement agencies and other external agencies in relation to fire safety’. For some students, a sort-of word blindness sets in and many just read it and think ‘oh, this is about the powers of inspectors’, and off they go and give a really good answer to a different question.

Maybe this is because, in Unit 1 of the National General Certificate (NGC1), a ‘Powers of Inspectors’ question is quite common and students have it lodged in their mind. FC1.3, however, asks you to understand more than just the ‘powers of inspectors’. . .

Firstly, a number of enforcement agencies or bodies can enforce The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRFSO), the key ones being;

  • Your local Fire and Rescue Authority – for example, ‘Up-North’, where I am, the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service is responsible for properties in their geographical area;
  • The Health and Safety Executive, responsible for nuclear installations, ships under construction or repair, and construction sites; and
  • Local Authorities, which are responsible for sports grounds.

In addition to these, and often forgotten about, are the Fire Service maintained by the Secretary of State for Defence, Fire Inspector authorised by the Secretary of State, Environment Agency/Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, and insurance companies (the syllabus is a great help here, as it lists them all).

Next, you are expected to understand the ‘the powers of inspectors’ under the RRFSO.  I often ask students to “think what powers you would want if you were an inspector”.  As they have powers quite similar to those of a HSE inspector (as covered in NGC1) most can give a good range of powers, such as entering to inspect premises (without the use of force), making enquiries to identify the responsible person, and taking samples of substances and articles.

The next section, however, is quite different and, again, I find it is often misread and causes confusion. It’s about ‘The powers of authorised officers’ – which is not the same as ‘powers of inspectors’!

An employee of a fire and rescue authority, who is authorised, may: enter premises in an emergency for fire-fighting, to obtain information for the purpose of investigating the causes of a fire and the reason for its progression. They may also:

  • enter premises or a place, by force if necessary, without the consent of the owner or occupier of that premises or place;
  • move or break into a vehicle without the consent of its owner;
  • close a highway;
  • stop and regulate traffic; and
  • restrict the access of persons to premises or a place.

And finally – guess what? – more confusion! This time it’s a combination of the wording and, sometimes, NGC1 knowledge being lodged in students’ minds again. We’re talking enforcement notices.

The most common confusion is usually around ‘alterations’ notices. Quite understandably, many students think ”oh, this must mean you have to make ‘alterations’”, when it’s actually the opposite!

‘Where an alterations notice has been served in respect of premises, the responsible person must, before making any of the changes, (specified below), which may result in a significant increase in risk, notify the enforcing authority of the proposed changes’.

The changes referred to are:

  • A change to the premises;
  • A change to the services, fittings or equipment in or on the premises;
  • An increase in the quantities of dangerous substances that are present in or on the premises;
  • A change to the use of the premises.

Then there are the prohibition and enforcement notices. Most have no problem with the former, as it’s very similar to a HSE prohibition notice. But the question I always get is: “Why is an RRFSO enforcement notice not just called an improvement notice (as per the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act), when it’s virtually the same thing?!”

My answer is that RRFSO just wanted to be different and keep NEBOSH students on their toes! Indeed, it is virtually the same so, to keep it simple, I say tell them to remember it’s called an ‘enforcement notice’ and not an ‘improvement notice’ and, after that, they are virtually the same.

So, hopefully, I’ve added some clarity and not more confusion. Once you realise and understand what element 1.3 and the associated examination questions are after, that’s the ‘Power to the People’!


Alan Springhall

Alan Springhall

Alan Springhall  MSc, DipNEBOSH

Alan followed his grandfather’s advice and left school at 16, he then completed a traditional mechanical engineering apprenticeship. Alan has over 30 years experience of practical health and safety application in a range of manufacturing environments including: glass, plastic moulding and extrusion, aerospace, paper and solvent adhesive processing. Alan is now an accredited tutor for the NEBOSH Diploma and most of the certificate courses, he specialises in classroom delivery which allows him to share his practical experience and enthusiasm to bring the syllabus to life. He is also proud to have tutored, on three separate occasions, the best performing national diploma candidates and likes to think that he played a small part in the performance of these excellent candidates. Alan is a keen motorcyclist; it is his preferred mode of transport in all but snowy weather. In his spare time Alan likes to keep fit by circuit training and running marathons. he is also aiming for his first triathlon this year.

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