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South Yorkshire 2018/19

People

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

Last updated 17/12/2019
Good

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, South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at looking after its people.

The service has clear health and safety policies that are supported by a specialist team. Staff are aware of their responsibilities and the procedures, and are able to report health and safety incidents easily.

The service has a new health and wellbeing strategy although it isn’t yet fully established. Staff who had used services spoke very positively about the support they received. There is some post-incident support available, but the service should improve the referral process.

There is a set of values and behaviours that are embedded into all the service’s activities. Staff see the senior leaders as role models who demonstrate the expected values.

Like most services, South Yorkshire FRS’s workforce doesn’t represent its diverse community. It recognises this and has done some work to increase interest, applications and recruitment of under-represented groups. But not all staff fully understand the need for increased diversity of the workforce.

There is a good individual performance review system in place and good staff development. Staff who aren’t involved in frontline operational response understand the importance of their roles and feel valued by the organisation.

The service has fair, open and accessible promotion processes for all staff, but could do more to identify and develop high-potential staff.

Questions for People

1

How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Good

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

Areas for improvement

  • The service should assure itself that staff understand how to access wellbeing support.
  • The service needs to ensure that staff involved in protracted operational incidents have adequate welfare facilities.

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

Workforce wellbeing

The service promotes the mental and physical health and wellbeing of its staff. It promotes wellbeing support on its intranet, on posters in prominent positions and on information screens. Services include employee counselling and links to Mind’s Blue Light Programme. Staff who have used wellbeing services spoke very positively about them. But not all staff understand what support is available or how to make a referral.

The system for instigating post-incident wellbeing support isn’t effective. There are processes for post-traumatic incident wellbeing support, but it isn’t yet part of routine practice. It is usually managed at local level. Some managers have received training in identifying mental health concerns, but not all managers have had this input. Staff in fire control have a mental health awareness aspect to their maintenance of competency training.

Incident welfare provisions such as toilet facilities and incident ground refreshments need improvement. The service relies on police welfare facilities which aren’t always available when needed at incidents. This means fire service staff can spend long periods at incidents without access to suitable welfare facilities.

Health and safety

The service has effective health and safety arrangements. It has a dedicated health and safety team, which contributes to a well-managed, positive health and safety culture.

All operational staff attend the Institute of Safety and Health (IOSH) one-day working safely course as part of their induction, and managers study for further IOSH qualifications according to their role.

Management promotes a supportive and learning style of investigation into accidents, rather than a blame culture. All accidents, near misses and undesirable circumstances are reported on a user-friendly electronic system.

Learning from investigations is shared with staff on a RAG memo denoting its severity. Staff confirm and record understanding via the Learnpro system. During our inspection we saw an example of how an urgent red memo was used to reinforce safe practice, after a member of staff was injured.

Culture and values

The service promotes its expected values and behaviours in its organisational narrative (‘Our story’). It aims to be a great place to work, to put people first, and to work hard to be the best. It expects honesty, integrity and respect, and it clearly articulates what the expected behaviours are for all staff at all levels of the organisation.

These values are incorporated into all the service’s updated publications and are also part of the personal development review process. The values are clearly displayed in all work places and on computer home screens.

Staff told us that they had seen a marked improvement in communication between different staff groups in recent years. Non-operational staff feel valued and that their contribution to ‘one team’ is appreciated. These staff spoke positively about the Bridging the Gap initiative. This involves non-operational staff being encouraged to work alongside operational colleagues on stations and take part in hands on, operational activities. This initiative has helped staff to better understand and appreciate how different roles in the organisation contribute to the overall aim of keeping the people of South Yorkshire safe.

We encountered some lingering historical perceptions of barriers between staff and middle/senior managers. But it was clear to the inspection team that the service is aware of past problems and is trying to improve trust, communication and relationships between all staff groups. Staff supported this view by clearly demonstrating the expected values and behaviours. They see senior leaders as increasingly accessible and approachable, and as models of the service values and expected behaviours.

Of the 203 respondents to our staff survey, 23 percent reported feeling bullied or harassed and 24 percent reported feeling discriminated against at work in the last 12 months. This is in line with other services.

2

How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?

Good

South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at getting the right people with the right skills. But we found the following areas in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure its workforce plan addresses any gaps in capability which affect the availability of fire engines.
  • The service needs to assure itself that all staff are appropriately trained for their role. It needs to ensure all staff keep their skills up to date and have a consistent method of recording when they have received training.

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 strategy but hasn’t yet produced the supporting documents to implement its strategic workforce plan. Despite this, we found that the skills and capabilities of staff align with the needs of the service’s IRMP. For example, specialist staff such as fire control, prevention and protection staff have bespoke development programmes which use e-learning and other methods to support competence.

The service uses future planning to identify operational staff who can retire, which informs planning for recruits’ courses and promotion processes. In spite of this planning, we found gaps in skills and capabilities, particularly at its on-call stations. For example, some on-call fire engines are regularly unavailable for use because the available firefighters lack essential skills such as a driver or incident command.

The service gives a high priority to risk-critical training. There are effective systems in place for staff to record ongoing and specialist training. These systems are used to plan courses. Staff up to the level of watch manager have to regularly maintain their skills such as wearing breathing apparatus, working at height or incident command. A central system allows the central training team to see who needs risk-critical training and their expiry dates. Staff must book all essential courses before they can book any leave on the system. If staff don’t maintain their risk-critical skills they are removed from operational duties until they have done so. Data supplied by the service showed extremely high completion rates for central courses.

The service has introduced a programme which allows new on-call firefighters to complete more of their initial training at their home stations, rather than the central training centre. This means greater flexibility for trainees by reducing the need to travel but it has had unintended consequences. Training recruits in this way means colleagues and managers provide the training. These staff aren’t trained as trainers, so training isn’t consistent or to the required standard. New firefighters need intensive supervision and guidance, while existing staff haven’t been able to address their own training and development needs.

Staff in support functions can access any development training either on an ongoing basis or as part of their personal development review. Managers then identify any suitable courses.

Learning and improvement

Staff are trained to be able to perform their jobs. Operational and control staff have to maintain competence against a set framework of practical and theoretical subjects appropriate to their role. All training is recorded electronically on to the WPS. This system allows all managers to quickly and accurately see what training has been completed and what is outstanding. This means that local managers can plan training for their staff depending on their specific needs.

This flexibility is essential as different stations have different equipment, risks and specialist vehicles. Managers in charge of shifts are responsible for most training at stations. Some are working towards an assessor’s qualification, but others haven’t been trained how to train and assess effectively. The service should consider how it assures the quality and consistency of on-watch training.

All posts in the service have a specific training needs analysis so that staff can carry out their expected roles. This includes equality, diversity and inclusion training and other softer skills such as conflict resolution. Newly promoted crew managers complete a training programme, which includes training in grievance, discipline and absence management procedures.

Any staff who have to command incidents have mandatory training and assessment. All of the records sampled for level 1 and 2 incident commanders were on time. But nearly half of level 3 commanders hadn’t completed the training. Level 4 commanders don’t have any formal qualifications for incident command duties. They attend a MAGIC course and develop through exercises as part of the LRF multi-agency exercise planner.

There is no formal training framework for any managers above watch manager level. Specialist staff such as hazardous materials advisers or fire investigators do an initial course and participate in continual professional development events. But there is no overall competency framework for this group of staff.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?

Good

South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at ensuring fairness and promoting diversity. But we found the following areas in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • To identify and tackle barriers to equality of opportunity, and make its workforce more representative, the service should ensure the value of positive action is well-understood by staff.
  • The service should assure itself that it has effective grievance procedures. It should identify and implement ways to improve staff confidence in the grievance process.

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 service regularly seeks feedback from staff at all levels and monitors staff engagement. A staff wellbeing survey in 2018 led to a health and wellbeing strategy and action plan. The service continues to address concerns raised and is still working to improve staff wellbeing.

The service conducts a ‘pulse’ survey every two months. These short electronic surveys seek staff feedback on specific issues. The results are discussed at executive level and are available to staff on the service’s intranet.

Senior managers blog in the service’s weekly bulletin to communicate with staff. This provides an opportunity for staff to give feedback or ask direct questions. Other communication methods include workplace visits by senior managers, station video screens, intranet updates and a regular podcast called ‘Firecast’. Staff can also opt into a WhatsApp group to be kept up to date.

Staff are confident and willing to feed back to and challenge senior leaders. We were told that this is an area that has improved recently.

Community feedback is included in the bulletin. There is also a system for recommending staff for an award for exemplary work. This system wasn’t widely known about.

Our review of staff formal grievances showed the service follows its procedures, which are clear and unambiguous. But it doesn’t always meet its own timescales. Grievances are monitored by Human Resources to identify trends. The service has first-contact workplace advisers to help staff involved in grievance proceedings. But many staff we spoke to didn’t know that this facility was still available or how to contact the advisers.

Not all staff have faith in the grievance procedures being effective, so would rather use representative bodies and raise a collective grievance to avoid being singled out. The service should address this perception and create a more harmonious working environment in which staff feel free to raise individual problems.

Diversity

The service doesn’t represent the community it serves and is working to increase workforce diversity through its equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategy. In the year to 31 March 2018, 2.9 percent of firefighters were from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background. This compares with a BAME residential population of 9.4 percent. Only 6.2 percent of firefighters were women.

There have been several positive action events and engagement with groups in the community to broaden the appeal of the service and break down traditional stereotypes. 

These campaigns have seen some positive results with a marked increase in the number of people from minority groups registering an interest. Figures supplied by the service showed that, from November 2017 to May 2019, the number of women registering an interest in recruitment had risen from 166 to 1,034. Registers of interest from members of the BAME community rose from 60 to 325. This increase resulted in nearly 300 applications in 2018 from under-represented groups and the most recent recruits course had 50 percent representation from under-represented groups, which is impressive progress.

The service also monitors applications and progression through the recruitment process to identify barriers for different groups.

The service has an active women’s support network and mentoring scheme. Staff see senior leaders as positive role models for EDI. The service should consider the need for similar support networks to be available for all staff, including those with protected characteristics.

Many staff still don’t understand the benefits of workforce diversity and view legitimate positive action as discrimination. To promote greater understanding, the service should ensure that all staff have completed the mandatory EDI training.

4

How well does the FRS develop leadership and capability?

Good

South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service is good at managing performance and developing leaders. But we found the following area in which it needs to improve:

Areas for improvement

  • The service should put in place an open and fair process to identify, develop and support high-potential staff and aspiring leaders.

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

Managing performance

South Yorkshire FRS has good arrangements in place to assess and develop staff performance.

The service has recently refreshed its personal development and review process (PDRP) to make it more user friendly and accessible, and to increase its benefit to the individual. The service monitors staff completion rates, although the completion rates for PDRPs does vary across different staffing groups. 

Data available after inspection shows that, as at 31 March 2019, the completion for wholetime firefighters was 91 percent, 75 percent for on-call firefighters, 45 percent for fire control personnel and 68 percent for support staff. Most staff we spoke to during our inspection spoke positively about the new process. However, there are still some staff who view a PDRP only as a tool for people who want to go for promotion.

Full reviews are carried out annually with a six-month review. But as the system is stored electronically, staff can request development at any time and update the review to show progress against set objectives. Managers can record staff performance against expectations and set clear objectives to improve performance or increase personal development. The service’s vision for PDRPs is for them to facilitate ongoing conversations about performance, rather than just an annual meeting. Staff feel that it is more relevant than the last system, but the system hasn’t yet realised its full potential.

The service has evaluated the new process focusing on the year 1 completion and use rates. Further evaluation to see how the objectives are being met is planned for year 2.

Developing leaders

The service doesn’t have a formal process for identifying and developing staff with high potential. It uses its appraisal process to help it identify staff who are interested in promotion. Senior managers told us that they will support staff so they can gain appropriate qualifications to aid development (such as the Executive Leadership Programme for senior leaders) and will offer project roles or other bespoke development for staff who are not able to access formal development courses.

All newly appointed managers are required to do mandatory training as part of the promotion.

We found that the promotion process was clear and well documented. Staff who wish to be considered for promotion have to get endorsement from their line manager before they can apply.

The promotion processes clearly set out role requirements. During our promotions review we identified that processes are fair and open, with candidates promoted on merit. Candidates receive feedback and development in conjunction with their line manager.