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Humberside 2021/22

People

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

Last updated 27/07/2022
Good

Humberside Fire and Rescue Service is good at looking after its people.

Humberside Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment.

The service has improved in managing its people since our last inspection, with policies and procedures in place that cover all relevant areas.

The service has a positive working culture. Its values are understood and reflected in the behaviour of most staff, although we were told that this is not the case for some senior managers. The service has developed excellent wellbeing services, and staff are broadly positive about this. Staff have access to support for their physical and mental health through the occupational health department.

Since our last inspection, the service has improved its workforce planning. The skills matrix that is now in place makes sure that all staff are aware of the most important competencies that they should have for their role, and what they will need if they progress to more senior roles. The service has a positive view of learning and development, which is noticeable throughout the organisation. It has put a great deal of effort into developing its competency recording system. And we were pleased to see that the service wants to take this further to make sure that it is effective for everyone.

The service has done an exceptional amount of work to engage with its staff. But it needs to do more to develop trust across the organisation, so that staff feel more confident challenging and giving feedback to management. And the service needs to show how it is acting on the feedback and challenge it receives from its workforce.

We found that the service was actively promoting issues relating to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). And the workforce supports this approach, which will lead to benefits in the long term. The positive action being carried out across the service is noteworthy.

The service has created a new performance development review system, which includes consideration of staff wellbeing. There has been excellent take up of this. But some staff feel that it is a tick-box exercise and see little benefit in completing the reviews.

 

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.

Humberside Fire and Rescue Service was good in its 2018/19 assessment.

Fire and rescue services should have positive and inclusive cultures, modelled by the behaviours of their senior leaders. Health and safety should be promoted effectively, and staff should have access to a range of wellbeing support that can be tailored to their individual needs.

Areas for improvement

  • The service should assure itself that senior managers are visible and demonstrate service values through their behaviours.
  • The service should monitor secondary contracts to make sure working hours are not exceeded.

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

Staff at all levels understand the culture, behaviours and values of the service, but more needs to be done to model these behaviours

The service has a clearly defined set of values. It has adopted the National Fire Chiefs Council Core Code of Ethics and developed a mandatory online learning package for all staff to help embed this throughout the organisation.

Most staff who responded to our staff survey (97.6 percent) told us they were aware of the service’s statement of values. In interviews with the inspection team, some staff told us of their concerns about some of the senior managers not always being visible or behaving in ways that align with the service’s values. These findings were echoed in our staff survey, where 40.4 percent of respondents reported similar concerns. Responses to the staff survey showed that 47.6 percent of respondents (111 of 233) felt they weren’t able to challenge management’s ideas without detriment as to how they will be treated afterwards. We found mixed attitudes towards challenging managers, and not all staff felt empowered to do this.

There is generally a positive working culture throughout the service. It has worked hard to try to build an open culture, including commissioning psychometric profiles for management teams. But we were told of pockets of behaviours and ways of working which resulted in on-call staff not feeling as valued as other groups of staff. The service needs to do more to make sure this problem is addressed.

The service has improved its support for its workforce’s wellbeing

The service has a comprehensive wellbeing plan, which is supported by well understood and effective wellbeing policies. This includes easily accessible advice and information on the service’s intranet site. Staff we spoke to and who responded to our staff survey reported that they understand and have high confidence in this guidance.

A significant range of wellbeing services are offered to support both physical and mental health (with availability extended to the families of staff where appropriate). Among these are new services from the service’s occupational health unit, which are well regarded among staff and easily accessible. This support, which is offered by multiple providers, includes:

  • fitness advisors;
  • counselling; and
  • physiotherapy.

While the support offered by the occupational health unit is good, some staff reported that there were delays in accessing it. The service should review this.

If a significant incident (such as a traumatic road collision) occurs, the service offers a critical stress management process to all staff involved. The service has three co‑ordinators and numerous staff trained in defusing and debriefing.

The service has effective governance arrangements in place to monitor the use of wellbeing support. It records anonymised data on this and cross references it with absence data to keep aware of trends.

We found some evidence of wellbeing discussions taking place alongside performance conversations with managers. But in our staff survey, 16 percent of respondents (37 of 233) said they have had no discussion about their health and wellbeing within the past year, and 21.5 percent (50 of 233) only do so once a year. To ensure it continues to provide the right support to its workforce, the service should make sure that wellbeing conversations take place on a regular basis. The service has also initiated a project with Humberside Police and the University of Hull to develop an operational risk assessment that is specific to its fire control staff.

Staff have confidence in health and safety policies and procedures but we found areas that need to be improved

The service has effective and well understood health and safety policies and procedures in place. All staff (100 percent) that responded to our staff survey said that the service has clear procedures to report all accidents, near misses and dangerous occurrences, and 97.4 percent said that they are encouraged to report these.

These policies and procedures are readily available and effectively promoted to all staff via both notice boards in buildings and the intranet. Responses to our staff survey showed that 97.4 percent of respondents understand the policies and procedures the service has in place to make sure they can work safely. Both staff and representative bodies have confidence in the health and safety approach taken by the service.

We found that the service was also making sure that staff who fail fitness assessments are fully supported. If this happens, it carries out a full risk assessment in line with the expectations of the firefighter’s specific role. It then gives them a fitness plan and monitors their progress with this to make sure that the firefighter gains the fitness required.

The service has policies for staff who have secondary employment, and those who have contracts for both wholetime firefighter roles and on-call roles (dual contract). A new online system is used to record when staff are working or available for work. But the service doesn’t monitor the working hours of staff to make sure they don’t work excessive hours, in line with its policy. Managers said that the onus was on individuals to manage their hours. But we found that some staff were working through their rest periods as they felt obliged to be available for incidents.

During our inspection staff shared their concerns about a lack of maintenance culture at on-call stations which also extended to appliances. At one on-call station we found there wasn’t adequate separation between clean and dirty firefighting personal protective equipment. The service should review its estates strategy to make sure that it addresses the risk of equipment being contaminated.

Absence management within the service is effective

As part of our inspection, we reviewed some case files to consider how the service manages and supports staff through absence including sickness, parental and special leave.

We found there are clear processes in place to manage absences for all staff. There is clear guidance for managers, who are confident in the process. Absences are managed well and in accordance with policy. The service uses dashboards throughout its departments to manage absences. The dashboards, accessible through computers, show live data which managers monitor to make sure that they are supporting personnel effectively. Absence information is reviewed at monthly performance meetings with HR colleagues. Anonymised data is cross referenced with data on the use of wellbeing support to ensure effective management and identify any trends.

Overall, the service saw a significant decrease in staff absences over the 12 months between March 2020 and March 2021.

2

How well does the FRS get the right people with the right skills?

Good

Humberside Fire and Rescue Service is good at getting the right people with the right skills.

Humberside Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment.

Fire and rescue services should have a workforce plan in place that is linked to their integrated risk management plans (IRMPs), sets out their current and future skills requirements and addresses capability gaps. They should supplement this with a culture of continuous improvement that includes appropriate learning and development throughout the service.

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

The service could improve its workforce planning

The service does some workforce planning, and processes and policies relating to this have been introduced since our last inspection. But it doesn’t take full account of the skills and capabilities it needs to be able to effectively meet the needs of its IRMP. There has, however, been effective liaison with the finance department to make sure workforce plans align with the available budget. The service uses dashboards to monitor its workforce composition to make sure that the right people are in the right roles with the right skills. Using role-specific training outlines and leadership frameworks, the service has developed a skills matrix for all staff – both uniformed and non-uniformed.

Workforce and succession planning are subject to scrutiny in the form of regular meetings to discuss requirements. Within recruitment, the service considers EDI, including taking positive action where appropriate (this is known within the service as ‘positive attraction’). But whole workforce planning seems to be limited, reactive and slow when gaps arise across the organisation. The service could do more to make sure that its workforce planning is more effective.

The service monitors the skills and training of its workforce effectively

Most staff told us that they could access the training they need to be effective in their role. The service has a comprehensive training delivery plan to make sure staff maintain their competences.

The service has invested in upgrading its competency recording system which it uses to monitor staff competency. It regularly updates its understanding of staff’s skills and risk-critical safety capabilities by monitoring of this system. The service has also carried out an analysis to help it efficiently offer training to its workforce. This involved working out the minimum amount of operational personnel, with the appropriate skills and competencies, it is likely to need to carry out the work implied by the specific risks it faces. This approach means the service can identify gaps in workforce capabilities and resilience and can make sound and financially sustainable decisions about current and future needs.

The service has a positive learning and improvement culture

A culture of continuous improvements and developing a supportive learning environment is promoted throughout the service and staff are encouraged to learn and develop. For example, there is a positive culture of using secondments to partner agencies to develop staff. Organisations involved in this approach include the local resilience forum, HFR Solutions Ltd, Humberside Police and clinical commissioning groups.

We reviewed training records for a range of staff and found that the service has accurate methods to record training and core competences. It was encouraging to see that operational and non-operational staff are given equal priority, with all training recorded in the same place. But there were some gaps in training throughout the service. The service should assure itself that all staff are up to date with their training needs. During our visit some on-call staff told us they felt that they do not have the same learning and development opportunities as their wholetime colleagues. The service should make sure that it addresses these concerns.

Most staff told us that they can access a range of learning and development resources. These include online learning modules for most skills, courses offered through the service’s training and development centre, and externally accredited incident command courses. This allows staff to do their jobs effectively.

The service monitors and assures training using both a competency recording system and a dashboard. The dashboard can be accessed locally by managers, which enables them to monitor their staff’s progress and put training plans in place for individuals in their teams. This holistic approach makes sure the service has an effective overview of its workforce’s skills.

3

How well does the FRS ensure fairness and promote diversity?

Good

Humberside Fire and Rescue Service is good at ensuring fairness and promoting diversity.

Humberside Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment.

Creating a more representative workforce will provide huge benefits for fire and rescue services. This includes greater access to talent and different ways of thinking, and improved understanding of and engagement with their local communities. Each service should make sure equality, diversity and inclusion are firmly understood and demonstrated throughout the organisation. This includes successfully taking steps to remove inequality and making progress to improve fairness, diversity and inclusion at all levels of the service. It should proactively seek and respond to feedback from staff and make sure any action taken is meaningful.

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 make sure that it has effective grievance procedures. It should identify and implement ways to improve staff confidence in the grievance process.
  • The service should make sure it has robust processes in place to undertake equality impact assessments and review any actions agreed as a result.

Innovative practice

The service has developed a positive action programme called Rookie Reds, which aims to provide support, training and guidance to people from under‑represented groups who are interested in joining the fire and rescue service. This is a ten-week course run before the formal recruitment process, at fire stations, giving a realistic insight into the varied role of a firefighter.

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

The service should do more to respond to staff feedback and make sure that staff feel that they can challenge management

The service has a range of ways to communicate with staff on issues and decisions that affect them.

Each member of staff is given the opportunity to speak to a member of the strategic leadership team, at least once a year. Other opportunities for communication include:

  • ‘Let’s Talk’ sessions – open forums for staff held quarterly and chaired by a member of the strategic leadership team;
  • a daily tactical briefing session via Microsoft Teams for all staff; and
  • a corporate magazine, Siren.

We found that the service was sometimes working with staff representative networks to help build all-staff awareness of fairness and diversity. It proactively engages with some of these groups to identify matters that affect their members, but this is not done consistently.

While the service carries out some evaluation of its communications, staff told us that they do not see change happening because of their feedback. In our staff survey, 51.5 percent of respondents (120 of 233) said they were not confident in the mechanisms for providing feedback to all levels. Some staff told us that their feedback was received defensively by senior managers, and other staff described the ‘Let’s Talk’ sessions as being too big a forum. Representative bodies feel that engagement is rarely or only sometimes meaningful. These bodies and staff associations told us that they would like better engagement from the service.

The service needs to do more to tackle bullying, harassment and discrimination

Staff have a good understanding of what bullying, harassment and discrimination are and their negative effect on colleagues and the organisation.

In our staff survey, 15 percent of staff who responded to the survey (35 of 233) told us they had been subject to bullying or harassment in the past year, and 20.6 percent (48 of 233) said they had experienced discrimination over the same period.

In most cases, the source of bullying, harassment or discrimination was described as someone in a management position. And where the inappropriate behaviour had been reported, staff indicated that no action had been taken in most cases. Of those who chose not to report the behaviour, nearly half told us the main reason for this was either because they thought nothing would happen, or due to fear of being victimised or being labelled as a troublemaker.

The service has clear policies and procedures in place and uses a dashboard to gather anonymous data to identify trends and provide oversight and scrutiny of cases. Despite this, staff have limited confidence in the service’s resolution processes due to concerns about confidentiality and the length of time it takes to resolve cases. Most managers felt that they were able and supported to manage such issues before they escalate.

The service is addressing disproportionality in recruitment and retention

There is an open, fair and honest recruitment process for staff or those wishing to work for the fire and rescue service. The service has put considerable effort into developing its recruitment processes so that they are fair and understood by potential applicants. The recruitment policies are comprehensive and cover opportunities in all roles. Recruitment opportunities are advertised both internally and externally, which has encouraged applicants from diverse backgrounds, including into middle and senior management roles.

The service has an effective system to understand and remove the risk of disproportionality in recruitment processes. For example, the service has carried out an equality impact assessment of the recruitment process and commissioned an external organisation to review its process for appointing officer roles to remove any potential bias.

It is using staff groups set up for underrepresented groups to help with running recruitment events. It has also changed the language it uses to describe positive action, which is now referred to as ‘positive attraction’.

The service has acted positively to improve diversity. For example, The Rookie Reds programme is a ten-week course run at fire stations across the four counties in the service area which prepares prospective applicants from underrepresented groups who want to become firefighters. This course is run before the firefighter recruitment process and is supported by members of staff and representative groups at local stations.

We found that the service had made some improvements in increasing staff diversity at all levels of the organisation. A training course for new joiners was being held at the time of our inspection. This included 15 percent women and 15 percent staff from ethnic minority backgrounds, while on the previous course 32 percent of participants were women. These figures represent an improvement on previous years. At the end of March 2021, the proportion of the workforce from ethnic minority backgrounds was 2.1 percent. This is a negligible increase of 0.1 percentage points since March 2018.

The proportion of women in the workforce at the end of March 2021 was 20.7 percent. This is above the England average of 18.0 percent, and represents an increase of 2.9 percentage points since March 2018.

The service has improved its approach to EDI

The service has improved its approach to EDI and is making sure it can offer the right services to its communities and support staff with protected characteristics. Staff we spoke to were all knowledgeable about the EDI challenges faced by the service and were very positive about the journey that the service has been on since our last inspection.

The service has set up some staff groups to help it consult effectively with people in its workforce from underrepresented groups. One benefit of these groups has been in consulting on and developing policies and procedures to support staff who are going through the menopause. Where there is a lack of employees from a particular underrepresented group, the service has sought external support. It is working with the Asian Fire Services Association (as a corporate member), using the association’s experience to help the service set up representative groups. It also works with Humberside Police to allow FRS staff to benefit from established police staff networks.

We found that the service had accessibility built into both its website and intranet using cloud-based software. This allows users to adapt the screen to their own preferences. This can include (but is not limited to):

  • language;
  • text size;
  • font style;
  • line spacing; and
  • colours.

The service is taking action to identify and address inequalities in its workplace and the services it supplies to the public. For example, it carried out equality impact assessments for the IRMP and the estates dignity improvement scheme.

However, the equality impact assessment process is not embedded across the service. The service has an equality impact assessment policy, which details its responsibilities and the governance processes in place to monitor and review how this is carried out throughout the service. But some policies and documents we reviewed did not have any assessments associated with them. The service should do more to make sure that all its projects and policies are subject to equality impact assessments.

The dignity improvement scheme is intended to improve the estate across the service to give all staff appropriate facilities, for example in relation to their gender or religion. However, the facilities for women at one of the stations were described to us as cramped and not suitable. The service should review its scheme, including speaking to staff it affects, and put in any further arrangements required as a result of that review.

4

How well does the FRS manage performance and develop leaders?

Good

Humberside Fire and Rescue Service is good at managing performance and developing leaders.

Humberside Fire and Rescue Service required improvement in its 2018/19 assessment.

Fire and rescue services should have robust and meaningful performance management arrangements in place for their staff. All staff should be supported to meet their potential, and there should be a focus on developing staff and improving diversity into leadership roles.

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.

The service is improving the way it manages people’s performance

There is a good performance management system in place which allows the service to effectively develop and assess the individual performance of all staff. For example, managers carry out performance development reviews throughout the service, discussing performance, competency, development and welfare with their staff.

In our staff survey, most staff (93.1 percent) who responded said that they have had regular discussions about performance with their manager and that these discussions were meaningful. But staff we interviewed during our inspection had mixed views about the reviews. Some said that they felt the discussions held no value and expressed concerns that the process was just a tick-box exercise.

The service should do more to assure itself that staff understand the limitations of the process and manage expectations of what can be achieved from it.

The service is developing processes to make sure that promotion and progression is fair for all staff

The service has put considerable effort into developing its promotion and progression processes so that they are fair and understood by staff. The service has developed a new policy covering these processes. This is evaluated between promotion rounds to make sure that it remains effective.

Selection processes are managed through monthly workforce planning meetings, and temporary promotions are used to fill short-term resourcing gaps. But data given to HMICFRS shows that one temporary promotion has been in place for over four years.

The service has a ‘pipeline’ process which prepares potential promotion candidates by giving them practical experience before they officially apply for a role. If an applicant is unsuccessful at promotion, they are given an ‘amber’ level pass which allows them to apply for temporary positions at a higher grade/rank – but they must reapply for a promotion to stay at this level permanently.

This process is sometimes perceived as being unfair and the service needs to do more to explain it to staff throughout the organisation. We also found that there is some confusion about what managers need to do to support personnel through this system, with inconsistent advice given by different managers.

The service’s promotion and progression policies are comprehensive and cover opportunities in most roles. But some staff in non-operational roles told us that they felt their routes for progression were more limited than was the case for their operational colleagues.

The service needs to do more to develop leadership and high-potential staff at all levels

The service needs to improve how it actively manages the career pathways of staff, including those with specialist skills and for leadership roles.

It has some talent management schemes in place to develop leaders and high‑potential staff. But these are limited to those who are highlighted by managers in their PDR reviews, which means that the schemes aren’t always managed openly or fairly. This has resulted in inconsistency and undermines staff perception of fairness in the process.

The service does provide development opportunities to staff, including leadership development and the opportunity to undertake a secondment outside of the organisation.

The service should consider putting in place more formal arrangements to identify and support members of staff to become senior leaders. There is a significant gap in its succession planning.

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