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Humberside 2018/19

People

How well does the fire and rescue service look after its people?

Last updated 19/06/2019
Requires improvement

A fire and rescue service that looks after its people should be able to provide an effective service to its community. It should offer a range of services to make its communities safer. This will include developing and maintaining a workforce that is professional, resilient, skilled, flexible and diverse. The service’s leaders should be positive role models, and this should be reflected in the behaviour of the workforce. Overall, Humberside Fire and Rescue Service requires improvement at looking after its people.

The service has health, safety and wellbeing policies. It gives support to staff who have been in traumatic situations or have mental health needs. The system relies on managers or individual staff members to recognise signs and symptoms of health issues and make referrals when support is required. Not all managers or staff understand how to access the support networks that are available.

The service takes health and safety seriously. Staff get appropriate training. The service learns from incidents and updates its procedures accordingly.

The service has a set of values that are understood and demonstrated by staff at all levels. Senior managers regularly visit stations to give and receive feedback.

The service takes into account its future needs when planning recruitment. Most staff feel that they have the right training to do their jobs, but training for non-operational work is hard to access, not widely available and poorly recorded. In the fire protection teams, there aren’t enough trained and competent staff to do the work as effectively as is needed.

The service has a clear policy for staff grievances. But it doesn’t track all grievances, especially ones that are resolved informally, to identify any trends and to make sure they are handled fairly. Most staff feel that they have opportunities to feed their views upwards, but fewer are sure their views will be listened to or that they can feed back freely without repercussions.

Individual performance management is uneven across the service. The personal development and review (PDR) process has been updated, but is used inconsistently. The outcomes vary depending on the manager, and some staff have never had a PDR. Some staff feel that promotion processes are frequently changed and there appeared to be a perception among some staff that this meant the processes are not fair, consistent or clear.

The service promotes diversity and engages with under-represented groups in its staff. It is taking steps to improve the diversity of its firefighters, with some positive results, though it doesn’t yet reflect the community it serves. Senior managers are supportive of this, but not all staff understand the benefits of this important work.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Good

Humberside Fire and Rescue Service is good at promoting the right values and culture. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The service should assure itself that staff understand and have confidence in the purpose and integrity of wellbeing policies and provision.

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.

Workforce wellbeing

We found evidence that the service has health, safety and wellbeing policies in place. However, evidence of the staff’s understanding of the wellbeing support and referral routes was inconsistent.

The service has a critical incident support process to help staff who have been exposed to traumatic situations. Fire control instigates the process, and the occupational health department makes follow-up calls.

The charity MIND runs a Blue Light programme to give mental health support to emergency service staff and volunteers. Blue Light champions throughout the service provide additional mental health support. Both these services rely upon a form of self-referral or self-realisation by the people or managers involved. We could not find evidence that some direct first-line managers or staff had been trained how to identify wellbeing concerns for themselves or colleagues. There was limited evidence of staff using the services available, such as critical incident support and MIND counselling. 

There are eight members in the occupational health team. At the time of the inspection, three staff vacancies were being filled by agency staff. We found that this was affecting the service’s ability to promote early interventions to identify health and wellbeing problems.

It was clear to us that senior managers promote wellbeing. They have organised mental health awareness conferences for the last two years and have also signed up to the Blue Light pledge for mental health. Our findings indicated that although there are frameworks and policies in place for wellbeing, not all staff understand them fully, or use them.

The service’s annual performance report 2017/18 indicated that, when compared with 2016/17, average sickness absence per person has increased across the full-time duty system, service control and support staff.

Health and safety

We found evidence that the service takes its health and safety responsibilities seriously. There is an electronic recording system for all health and safety related incidents and near misses. The system automatically notifies the representative bodies of a new entry on the system. This collaborative approach has supported a more positive culture for health and safety across all areas of the service.

We saw examples where the service has changed procedures following safety-critical incidents. The health and safety team produces safety flashes that it sends to every firefighting team to highlight new health and safety matters. Firefighters must acknowledge these updates on their personal development and review systems before they can continue to look at the main website.

Staff get appropriate health and safety training. All staff must undertake a one-day health and safety awareness course. Managers have different levels of qualification in line with their role requirements. Training refreshers are provided via courses and eLearn packages.

We saw performance information that clearly demonstrated that the number of near miss recordings had increased between the 2016/17 and 2017/18 reporting periods. The data also showed a direct correlation to a decrease in the number of actual accidents being reported within the same period.

Of the 206 respondents to our staff survey, 97 percent agreed that they are encouraged to report all accidents, near misses and dangerous occurrences, and 98 percent of respondents agreed that they know how to do so.

Humberside Police is now using the service’s health and safety team as a competent advisor for health and safety matters. 

Culture and values

We found that the service has a set of values and behaviours that firefighters and staff at all levels within the organisation genuinely understand and demonstrate. The service created these values in consultation with the staff and they include areas such as leadership and innovation. We found evidence that senior managers act as role models and demonstrate commitment to service values through their behaviour. We felt that this showed that there is a strong organisational commitment to the values at a senior level. The strategic leadership team visit fire stations and other departments to give direct messages to all staff and seek direct feedback.

The values are well accepted and understood in all aspects of the service. The service is now using these values as the basis for recruitment, personal development reviews and the promotion processes.

The service stages an annual awards evening to recognise staff, partners and other members of the community who particularly demonstrate the service’s values and behaviours.

Despite this range of good work, of the 206 respondents to our staff survey, (which is approximately 19 percent of the total workforce), 26 percent reported feeling bullied or harassed and 31 percent reported feeling discriminated against at work in the last 12 months. So at least a quarter of respondents feel they have experienced behaviours that are inconsistent with the culture and values of the organisation. There are limitations to the staff survey which should be considered alongside the findings. We explain these on the About the Data page.

2

How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • Training and development for non-operational roles needs to be more structured and consistent.
  • The service should ensure its workforce plan takes full account of the necessary skills and capabilities to carry out the integrated risk management plan.

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area. 

Workforce planning

The service has a workforce plan that considers future staffing requirements against set budgets and leaver’s data. The service uses this plan to support the future recruitment needs for the service. It is a relatively new document that focuses on all roles.

As mentioned previously, the service has recently inaccurately predicted the number of staff retiring, which resulted in it recruiting more people than it needed to. We found areas within the service that did not have enough trained and competent staff to be able to provide its function as effectively as possible. These functions include the fire protection teams and the occupational health department. Three of the eight positions within the health team are filled by agency staff, and feedback to inspectors indicated this affects the levels of support available. The service is also experiencing difficulties recruiting firefighters at some of its on-call stations.

We found that succession planning is limited to starters, movers and leavers. It does not take full account of the requisite skills and capabilities that the service needs to implement the integrated risk management plan.

Learning and improvement

We found that that the service gives operational and risk-critical training sufficient priority. The service produces an annual operational training needs analysis. Stations are grouped into small clusters and each cluster carries out the practical training theme on a monthly rolling programme.

Operational crews record their maintenance of competence on PDR Pro, an electronic system. The PDR Pro traffic light system allows staff and line managers to see what training is required. We sampled several records and we found that most staff are maintaining a good level of competence. This allows local managers to arrange training to suit the needs of their staff.

The service plans theoretical training for operational staff every year. Staff must complete several assessable eLearn modules every month.

Of the 206 respondents to our staff survey, 69 percent agreed that they had received sufficient training to enable them to do what is asked of them. However, 60 percent of respondents did not feel that they are given the same opportunities to develop as other staff in the service.

The service does not plan training for non-operational staff or firefighters on non-operational duties to the same extent. Training for non-operational roles is inconsistent and staff cannot access it as easily, nor is it widely available. For example, every member of the operational side of the service has mandatory training and development that is planned and monitored. This is not the same for those staff who are not in operational roles. 

There are multiple systems for recording the training for non-operational staff. This lack of corporate oversight has led to inconsistent levels of compliance with the mandatory training requirements for these members of staff.

Feedback from on-call staff suggested that they struggle to complete all the required training in the limited time they have available each week.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should assure itself that staff are confident using its feedback mechanisms, so these help the service gather valuable information.
  • The service should assure itself that it has effective grievance procedures.
  • To identify and tackle barriers to equality of opportunity, and make its workforce more representative, the service should ensure diversity and inclusion are well-understood and become important values of the service.

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.

Seeking and acting on staff feedback

The inspection team found that staff regard feedback processes as effective. Methods of feedback available to staff include the staff survey, a programme of senior leadership team visits, weekly written publications and formal committee meetings. We found that the service had given minimal feedback to staff on the results of the last staff survey.

The service used an independent company to undertake the most recent staff survey in November 2016. At the time of the survey, Humberside FRS had 1,016 employees, and 444 of them completed the survey. We saw little evidence of the service making immediate changes because of this survey. However, there was a revised programme of staff engagement visits by senior managers to every workplace and staff group.

Of the 206 respondents to our staff survey, 65 percent agreed that there were opportunities to feed their views upwards in the service. However, only 40 percent were confident that their views would be listened to and only 41 percent felt able to challenge ideas without any detriment as to how they would be treated afterwards.

The service has recently commenced daily briefing meetings to improve two-way communication. The briefings cascade from the executive leadership team through to staff. Some technical difficulties have prevented full implementation of the daily briefings across all stations. The service is working to rectify this, so that the daily briefings can work to best effect.

Senior staff have direct contact with all teams on a rolling programme. All stations and departments are visited once a year by a member of the service’s strategic team, and managers do ‘back to the floor’ engagement work alongside wholetime shifts and other staff groups.

We found that the service has a clear policy for dealing with staff grievances. The policy clearly articulates the desire for grievances to be resolved informally where possible. We found that although the policy is clear, there is no systematic process for understanding or monitoring grievances that are resolved at this first stage. This lack of oversight and understanding means that the service is not managing, identifying and dealing with any trends before they reach the stage where a member of staff escalates their grievance to the formal stage.

It was clear that there is good engagement with all representative bodies. The service consults these bodies about changes that might affect their members. A good example of this is the recent shift change pilot introduced at the suggestion of staff.

We found that some staff groups have a perception that the service does not treat them equally compared with other groups. For example, there is a perceived difference in the number of development opportunities afforded to operational staff as opposed to those for non-operational staff.

Diversity

We found that the service promotes equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). It was also evident that it engages with under-represented groups in the workforce. This enables the service to resolve staff concerns and work towards ensuring fair and open opportunities for all under-represented groups.

We could see that EDI groups are in place. These groups are involved in impact assessment and consultation on new policies and working arrangements.

The service does not currently reflect the community it serves. The service employs a disproportionately low number of female staff. As at 31 March 2018, 17.8 percent of the total workforce were female, and 4.1 percent of firefighters were female. We did find evidence that the service is taking steps to improve the diversity of its wholetime firefighters, with some positive results in the last recruitment campaign. The most recent recruitment campaign for wholetime firefighters included 6 female and 2 black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) recruits from an intake of 22 people. The service now needs to build on this success in recruiting staff from currently under-represented groups. As at 31 March 2018, 1.5 percent of firefighters were from a BAME background. This compares with a BAME residential population of 3.5 percent.

There is a structured approach to improving EDI. The service has plans in place to address disproportionality, but has not yet fully implemented them. 

We found that not all staff fully understand the benefits of a diverse workforce or of positive action events. Some staff said that they felt positive action had gone too far. The service needs to ensure that all the workforce fully understand and embrace the EDI agenda and its benefits for Humberside FRS.

It was clear that staff see the chief fire officer as a champion of EDI, and the senior leadership team shows a strong commitment to EDI matters. The service promotes its commitment to EDI through publicity campaigns on fire engines. It has fire engines displaying ‘pride’ regalia, and supports and attends events such as Hull Pride. The service is also committed to the He4She movement promoting women in the workplace. This is a UN-backed movement to improve gender equality.

4

How well does the FRS develop leadership and capability?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should improve understanding and application of the new performance development review process among all staff.
  • The service should ensure that selection, development and promotion of staff is open, transparent and fair, including the use of temporary promotions.

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the service’s performance in this area.

Managing performance

We found evidence that the service has refreshed the personal development and review (PDR) process, and that the new system is consistent with the service’s values. Evidence of the completion of meaningful PDRs was inconsistent. Some staff have never had a PDR. We also found that the outcomes of PDRs vary, depending on the manager who does the review. This is a concern, because the PDR process is inextricably linked to the service’s ability to produce a valid training needs analysis (TNA). The TNA work can only be fully effective once all PDRs are completed.

A lack of consistency around PDRs may have an impact on staff development. Of the 206 respondents to our staff survey, 60 percent were satisfied with their current level of learning and development. 

Developing leaders

The service has mechanisms in place to develop its leaders. It has a development framework for developing operational skills. The service has a leadership framework that at the time of inspection was at the point of roll out. This framework lays out learning and development requirements for leaders and a planned approach to internal management development. No implementation date has yet been set for this but we look forward to seeing evidence of the benefits of this work once it is fully implemented.

The service has a talent management framework as part of its workforce plan. The aim of this is to identify future leaders and potential staff for significant roles. This is an important part of workforce development however we found little evidence of this being in place for all roles within the service.

We did find evidence that senior managers can apply to attend development courses such as the executive leadership programme (ELP) via the National Fire Chiefs Council. Newly promoted managers attend Chartered Management Institute or Institute of Leadership and Management courses at Grimsby College. There was also some other evidence of the service supporting staff to undertake secondments to aid personal development.

Staff told us many managers were in temporary positions and were often moved. Consequently, managers have limited opportunities to build effective relationships, and staff are less able to engage the leadership team via their managers.

During feedback sessions, it was clear to the inspectors that some staff felt that promotion processes are frequently changed. An example was altering the qualification needed to gain promotion, such as the Institution of Fire Engineers’ exam requirement. Although the service informs staff about any changes, we found a perception that the processes are not fair, consistent or clear.