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Alarms firm’s remote audit

Due to the enforced lockdown to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the SSAIB inspectorate took the decision to continue to offer certification by embracing new technology and migrating to remote auditing.

With the remote audit process now having been in place for two months, SSAIB spoke with Heather Martin – operations manager of SSAIB-registered firm Southern Fire Alarms Ltd – to discuss their own remote audit done last month.

The West Sussex-based company – who have been SSAIB-registered to install fire alarms since April 2008 – were due to have their annual BAFE SP203-1 on April 22, but saw this changed to a remote audit when it was clear that it was no longer possible for auditor Stephen Jenkins to conduct a visit in person on that date.

Despite some initial apprehension about this new development – after initially wanting to postpone the audit to after lockdown – Heather said that she is now pleased they were able to go ahead with it when they did.

Heather said: “I was very apprehensive beforehand and thought it would be easier to just extend it for six months – as an audit was the last thing we wanted to be doing with the other business changes we were needing to implement. However – in hindsight – I’m so glad we have done it.

“By doing it now, it means that we can carry on for another 12 months and we’re not trying to scramble with everyone else to get in for an audit in six months’ time – as I’m sure there’d be much more of a backlog had SSAIB not switched to remote audits.

As for the audit process itself, Heather said: “The system that SSAIB have put in place was easy to navigate and the guidance document was clear in relation to the evidence that required uploading. On the day of the audit, our auditor Stephen called promptly to explain how he would work through the documents. He then called again the following day to summarise his findings.

“The actual remote audit was less time-consuming than normal, to be honest. I had already uploaded everything that we needed to beforehand, so Stephen called promptly at the start of the day to explain how he would work through the documents. Therefore, in that sense, I actually gained quite a lot of the time that would have otherwise been spent on a normal audit.”

Being ushered into a remote audit isn’t the only change that SFA – who recently celebrated their 20th anniversary – have had to make due to the virus. However, Heather believes that the company’s “loyal core of key personnel” is their secret weapon to help them negotiate the difficult time we all find ourselves in at present.

Heather added: “We’ve had to make quite significant changes to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, we have had to furlough some of our engineers and maintain a skeleton staff in the office. With social distancing, everything has had to be kept at a minimum so we’ve got people working from home as well.

“In some respects, we’re very lucky that we have a low turnover of staff – as it means we have a loyal core of key personnel that have been able to carry on and ensure everything runs as smoothly as it can during this time. Without that commitment of those key staff members, we simply would not have got through this. It’s not been easy, but we’re working together – as it’s a balance between safety for all of our staff and ensuring the survival of the company.”

“We are still carrying out servicing, emergency breakdowns and critical works. We’re just having to adapt, day-to-day and customer-to-customer, to decide whether we can go in and carry out works.”

Despite the impact that COVID-19 has had on the Bognor Regis-based installation company – that added security systems to their SSAIB scope of certification in October 2017 – Heather insisted that SFA’s certification with SSAIB was still of the upmost importance and that it was necessary for themselves and the wider industry to remain as a third-party certified organisation.

Heather said: “I think it’s really important to ensure that we continue our certification with SSAIB during this time – as there is going to be an end to this at some stage and that’ll bring a lot of work, some of which will be tendered. If we don’t have the certification when that end date arrives then we’ll miss out, it’s as simple as that.

“I also think it’s important for the industry as a whole that we have accreditation and that standards are maintained– especially in the current climate.

“Of course, other companies might not be in the fortunate situation we are with being able to continue with their certification at this time. However, I’d say those companies who are able to carry on like ourselves will reap the rewards of doing so when everything starts picking up again.”

The world is waiting to see this pandemic’s effects; but Heather – who has worked within the industry for over two decades – said that her own post-lockdown plans are more down-to-earth. When asked about the first thing she would do after all restrictions have been lifted, Heather replied: “Go on holiday! Somewhere with sunshine ideally.

“I’m a planner and always have things arranged months in advance. Nothing is going ahead at the moment, so everything is getting struck out in the diary and it seems to be never-ending at present.

“It would be nice to be able to add a holiday in there as an end-point, to give us something to look forward to. Of course, it will also be great to see friends and family again and I’m especially looking forward to being able to give people a hug again – especially my mum and dad.”

For more on SSAIB’s remote auditing procedures – or to find out which schemes they are able to provide certification for using this method – visit www.ssaib.org or phone 0191 296 3242.


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