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An auditor calls

SAIB inspector Peter Cowell

Whether you are an installer of security systems, or an end-user customer, it pays to understand the benefits of certification. Why? Well, certification provides a benchmark that risk management service providers should aspire to, and their customers can turn to, offering independent reassurance of high standards provision.

It’s ironic that in these days of online recommendations for all types of services, the comparative advantages of third-party certification aren’t better known and more widely acknowledged. While there are various government-backed and commercial initiatives such as TrustMark, Checkatrade and Trustatrader, it’s through certification that customers and service providers alike can truly realise their aspirations.

What does the certification process involve, in a practical sense? For the risk services provider, is it an onerous procedure? And for the customer, does an insight into the process offer further reassurance? SSAIB inspector Peter Cowell, whose 30-year tenure in the security industry has involved time spent on the other side of the fence working for companies including Thorn Security and later as MD of HSG Security, points out that while the bar is set high there are compensations. Peter, pictured, says: “We’ll only certificate companies which can demonstrate technical and managerial competence through an inspection of the processes and procedures they operate. Having said that, we’re friendly, approachable and non-bureaucratic.

“Certification means you can be confident in the quality of service you provide. Insurers increasingly require evidence that all steps have been taken to mitigate risk and ensure the safety of personnel and assets within the workplace. SSAIB certificated companies meet, or exceed, insurers’ requirements and by using an SSAIB registered company customers ensure that their system(s) has been installed to all relevant standards, by a provider that is competent in all its working practices.

“Having accreditation brings value to a business, demonstrating that the company has been independently inspected and that it can and does meet relevant industry standards, as well as demonstrating the firm’s expertise and professionalism. It also gives the end user customer important peace of mind that they’ve chosen the right company with which to entrust their systems.”

As an auditor, Peter’s ‘patch’ covers a broad geographic spread of Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire. Shortly after joining, he attained a quality management systems lead auditor qualification and now accredits companies providing all types of security systems, including lone worker devices, detector-activated CCTV and temporary alarm systems. Last year he trained to inspect ARCs and has completed the IRCA (International Register of Certificated Auditors) examination, making him a qualified QMS Lead Auditor – a relevant qualification for ISO 9001.

He points out that SSAIB regional inspectors are typically people like him – those who have significant grass roots industry experience and most of whom have been engineers, giving them valuable insights. “Having this type of wide industry background is invaluable when you are sitting down opposite CEOs and company directors. It gives them the confidence that we not only have the relevant accreditation training, but also the knowledge and experience from their side of the table.

“To put it another way, we’ve sat in their shoes and know what it’s like to face all of the pressures involved in running a company in this business. In short, we can empathise, but of course that doesn’t mean we’ll allow any shortcuts. The upside is that we can more readily demonstrate how to attain the required certification standards required.

“We’ll only certificate companies which can demonstrate technical and managerial competence through an inspection of the processes and procedures they operate. We take great pride in those companies for not just meeting the requirements of the documentation process but installing systems to a high standard. So we set the bar high, but having said that we’re friendly, approachable and non-bureaucratic, and we’ll do our best to help registered firms with any problems or queries they have, within the limits of the UKAS rules. We’re not a trade association, but where we can assist we will. You see that happening, for instance, in the regular programme of regional seminars held around the UK and Ireland every year.

“At SSAIB we are all professionals with wide knowledge of the industry and an internal network including a What’s App forum among the inspectors to discuss topics including standards, so that we’re all updated and can share our individual experiences among the team. Our duties and responsibilities are varied, due to a security and fire industry that’s quite complex, market driven and always evolving. Day to day, besides the inspections themselves, auditors also have to attend police meetings and investigate any complaints made against a registered firm.”

Practical realities

So how does the certification process work in reality, for a first time company? “It can appear daunting,” Peter concedes, “but we soon get to build a working relationship and I’ll explain what the auditing process entails as well as provide an idea of what they should expect. More importantly, I’ll spell out what I expect from them too.

“I’ll run through the programme we need to complete, which involves a company’s processes and procedures. I’ll choose a minimum of three sites with various scopes (intruder, CCTV, access control) they’ve installed to inspect, which is needed because the inspection process is a sampling one and different things are being looked for all the time. So besides meeting the requirements of the documentation process in the office, it’s equally important that the various scope installations, when inspected, have been carried out to a high standard.

If any shortfalls are uncovered these are raised as NCRs (non conformity reports) or OFIs (opportunities for improvement). While I will include these in my report, it’s important to note that that shouldn’t be seen as a mark against the company concerned, but rather as an opportunity along their learning curve in this process. All NCRs and OFIs are discussed at the time, during the actual process of the audit. I will explain the difference between the two and how an NCR will need to be closed down. At the end of the day’s visit there is a discussion with the managers/directors responsible for running the business where we’ll run through my findings. These are subsequently emailed across in hard-copy format as a formalised report.”

Common issues

Peter explains that last year some companies were receiving NCRs for failing the minimum 30-second exit tone on their URN monitored systems with a mobile phone, meaning the systems would set instantly and increasing the likelihood of false alarms occurring. So in September 2015 PD 6662:2010 included an industry agreement (IA1501:2015) requiring a timer to be used when using a remote device to set the alarm system. Screening is another area commonly queried by registered firms, he adds. Screening is required both by the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC, formerly ACPO) security systems policy and SSAIB’s own criteria. It requires BS 7858, which ensures the employment of personnel of good repute and identifies any unspent convictions or associations which may be deemed unacceptable.


If you’re considering SSAIB certification, but haven’t yet signed up, Peter has some words about the follow-up processes involved following the initial certification process: “The follow-up visits required are, I feel, more relaxed for registered firms because they have, by that stage, got to know me and probably already spoken to me about a dozen times throughout the following year with questions, queries and so on.”

Concluding his insight, Peter is full of praise for what he’s witnessed as an auditor so far: “I’ve met many engineers over the years, but only in the past three years working for SSAIB have I witnessed their knowledge of the standards, quality of workmanship and professionalism. They prove not just a credit to the companies I inspect and the industry as a whole, but to SSAIB as well.”



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