You can read the interview in the magazine here, or read it in full below:

More Than Just Bricks and Mortar

The UK’s premier property management group, FirstPort’s current portfolio spans 172,000 homes across 3,700 developments in the residential, retirement, and luxury markets. Owned by Knight Square, the organisation has some 30 years of experience in the market and, with its team of some 3,000 highly trained professionals, FirstPort is able to deliver an unquestionably excellent high standard of service, customer care, and positive experience for customers.

Encompassing all areas of property management for the ever-demanding industry client, FirstPort covers all aspects of residential property management, insurance, and consultancy to provide the complete management service. Backed up by cutting-edge technology, award-winning people, and a level of transparency nigh-unheard of in the industry, FirstPort excels across the board and, as such, has enjoyed successful working relationships with a number of leading clients over the years.

The organisation has a profound level of expertise in all markets of places a strong focus on health and safety, with clear recognition of the paramount importance of keeping their residents as safe as is humanly possible when they are in their homes. We spoke to Mark Varley, Head of H&S at FirstPort to find out more about the organisation’s approach to health and safety.

“We understand that in the retirement side of the business, there are vulnerable people living in the developments,” explained Mark Varley. “In most of the developments, we will have a dedicated development manager on-site who helps us to keep our health and safety standards up to the maximum. The development manager will often be managing the risks on-site, but we also have a compliance team which makes sure that asbestos surveys are taken out, five year electrical tests are taken out, and also ensure that any equipment in the building which is there to protect people will be maintained, kept in service, and compliant.

“Beyond this, we have a number of things in place. At least once every three years we have a visit from an organisation we partner with called Quantum, who carry out a full fire risk assessment on the development as well as risk assessment check, which is really useful for us. What we do then, is monitor any recommendations which come from those visits, and we ensure that they are carried out in good time.”

Although traditional occupational health and safety risks remain substantially minor in the field of property management itself, Mark Varley highlights the important role of health and safety in maintaining customer care, keeping on top of any issues and being proactive in managing any potential risks, and also in the management of those contractors which are indeed performing slightly riskier, workman duties. Indeed, with said contractors often representing the company on a day-to-day basis and with little to differentiate them from FirstPort employees to the outside world, the importance placed on ensuring a high standard of health and safety process within the contractor base, as well as the safety of said contractors, is then regarded as paramount with FirstPort.

At the first point of contact, FirstPort is understandably strict in ensuring that any and all contractors with which it works have the necessary accreditations and compliance from a health and safety perspective. Beyond this, however, the organisation also looks to provide guidance for contractors who may wish to reach a complicit level, pointing would-be contractors in the direction of its website for further information as well as in the direction of interesting tools and initiatives run by the HSE itself. This allows for the organisation to simultaneously maintain an exemplary standard within its contractor base, but also sees the organisation take an increasingly leading role in the encouragement of safety amongst the wider market.

Beyond this, FirstPort targets specific areas of work which may incorporate higher degrees of risk, such as working at height, and understandably raises the bar on expectation to ensure that works are performed safely. Requesting a specific risk assessment and method statement around all forms of work at height, the organisation works with contractors to ensure processes are sound, and even assists said contractors in the locating of useful tools and resources for further health and safety assessment.

“Access isn’t always straightforward for developments, and so we expect contractors to be competent to provide a safe system of access for work,” explains Mark Varley. “What’s also a really useful tool is WAIT, which is an online tool by the HSE which really gives some depth and guidance on the right type of access equipment to be used in different circumstances, looking at everything from the type of ground through to the environment – we use it quite a lot.”

Then looking at the ongoing monitoring of works as they are undertaken on site, FirstPort has been seen to increasingly leverage smartphone technology and the interconnectivity of apps to support the site inspection and site auditing processes, allowing for an easy form of visual communication through on-site photography, which the organisation then uses as a core form of contractor feedback on how specific contractors are working, and whether works are indeed being provided to the required standard. To some extent, this has allowed for an extending of the reach of specific health and safety personnel, as well as allowing for far improved communication which remains ever-essential in the health and safety process.

But this isn’t the only area in which FirstPort has been leveraging technology for the purpose of communication. Indeed, in the arena of training and development, the organisation has also been successful in the development of its own e-learning and training scheme, with over 70 different e-learning modules available to members of staff. The modules cover everything from the basics of what to do on a development through to the spotting of risks, how to deal with contractors, and much more. In addition to this, FirstPort has also been working to develop a health and safety culture within the organisation, with ‘Strong Health and Safety’ being the organisation’s first priority of its ‘Four Pillars’ framework, clearly setting out goals and priorities for the company’s 3,000 staff. As such, has created its very own one day course for health and safety within property management, which has also gleamed IOSH approval and has received a tremendously positive reception internally.

As testament to these processes, FirstPort was recently awarded a score of 97% (five stars) by the British Safety Council in recognition of the incredible work being undertaken by the organisation in ensuring the highest degree of safety across both its own operations and that of its contractor base. Receiving a highly positive report from the British Safety Council, the routine inspection has proven a considerable success for FirstPort in the first instance, and also highlighted the way forward for the company too. As Mark Varley commented: “We’re clear about what we want to do, and the positive feedback that we got has really helped people to realise that we are on the right track in what we’re doing.”

Going forward, we expect to see FirstPort continue to leverage modern technologies in increasingly interesting ways, as well as take a more central role in the tackling of health and safety issues within the hearts and minds of the people themselves. This, hopefully, being something we can provide more information on in due time.