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Avon 2018/19


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

Last updated 20/12/2018

Overall, Avon Fire and Rescue Service is inadequate at looking after its people.

Avon FRS is inadequate in the way it promotes the right values and culture. It does not give appropriate support to staff after a traumatic incident. We found that the service’s leadership is trying to engage with staff. But staff told us about inappropriate behaviour and insensitive language and they said they did not have a voice in the service. We saw limited evidence that staff are aware of the service’s mission, vision and values. The service is developing a framework describing appropriate behaviours.

The service is good at getting the right people with the right skills. It shows good workforce planning. The service keeps records about staff with second jobs. But it does not review these records to help avoid any conflicts of interest. It monitors and records firefighter competency effectively. Managers use this system to plan training. Avon FRS shares information from debriefs and ensures staff read this.

The service is inadequate at ensuring fairness and promoting diversity. Some staff feel that they had access to leaders. Others do not. The service has good relationships with representative bodies. Staff trust the service’s confidential reporting line, but not all of them know how to access it. Some staff considered the service’s response to their grievances to be unethical. Staff told us that they had been humiliated by their peers and made to feel excluded if they spoke up about problems.

The service’s diversity does not match that of its communities. We found evidence that staff do not understand diversity. The service does not have support networks in place for staff from minority groups. However, the service is trying to recruit more staff from diverse backgrounds. Data supplied by the service shows that after the most recent campaign, there were successful candidates who were female and some who were from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds.

Avon FRS requires improvement at managing performance and developing leaders. All staff can access its personal development review process, but some staff do not feel the process is effective. The service does not have a process to identify potential leaders. Staff consider the promotion process to be inconsistent and not easy to understand. The service acknowledges that it must improve staff development and told us about its plans to do this.

Questions for People


How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?


Areas for improvement

  • The service should assure itself that its senior and middle managers visibly act as role models and consistently show commitment to service values through their behaviours.

Cause of concern

Avon FRS isn’t looking after the wellbeing and mental health of its staff effectively. It hasn’t clearly communicated to staff the new values and how to demonstrate these values in the workplace.


By 30 June 2019, the service should assure itself that:

  • it communicates the revised values to staff effectively, ensuring that they understand and can demonstrate the new values; and
  • its policy, procedures and support for mental health and wellbeing are well-understood and effective.

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 significant evidence that the service is not giving appropriate support to staff who have attended a traumatic incident. There were several occasions throughout our inspection when staff became visibly upset when sharing their experiences with us.

Staff said that they feel the service doesn’t fully understand the welfare needs of the organisation. We found little evidence of training for staff and managers to help them identify when a colleague needs mental health or wellbeing support. Such support might be needed after illness or trauma, both job and non-job related. But we did hear about an occasion when the senior management team contacted a staff member in need and offered support.

The service provides a counselling service through a private organisation and supports the Mind Blue Light mental health programme. Staff can either self-refer or be referred by someone else. We spoke to several staff members who were unaware of the support available to them or how to access it.

The service has trained some staff as mental health champions. These champions support staff who may be experiencing some mental health difficulties. The service plans to implement a trauma risk management (TRiM) process. This is recognised as an effective method of supporting staff following traumatic incidents.

Health and safety

The service has a health, safety and welfare policy. But the policy gives no detail on how the service will manage and monitor the wellbeing of its workforce. The service has a clear structure for health and safety, including the provision of training. We found the training records for health and safety were not always accurate. Some staff training records were out of date.

The service has fitness advisers attached to stations. Their role is to assess staff fitness levels and support individuals with fitness plans as needed. Co-ordination and support across the service is provided by a lead station fitness adviser.

Culture and values

The new chief fire officer and his management team are making a clear effort to be more visible across the organisation. Staff told us that they feel the organisation is changing. They feel the behaviours of the senior management team reflect this change. They describe middle managers as engaging more with staff. The service has established a staff engagement network. It has a senior officer as part of its membership.

The service recently commissioned a cultural review. The senior managers made a conscious decision to see the results at the same time as the staff. Staff view this as a very positive approach. They see it as a clear demonstration of the service’s values.

The results of the cultural review were consistent with our findings. Staff described recent examples of inappropriate behaviour and the use of language that was insensitive about gender and ethnicity. As mentioned earlier, we had several occasions during our inspection interviews where staff became visibly upset when sharing their experiences of the service. We found that there were common themes, such as staff feeling undervalued. Staff told us they feel they do not have a voice within the service.

The service’s mission, vision and values were revised earlier this year. Staff are positive about the review process and feel that they have been consulted. But staff have limited understanding of the mission, vision and values of the organisation and how they translate into workplace behaviours. Throughout our visits to stations across the service, only a few locations displayed the newly created mission, vision and values. Equally, there was limited information on the service’s website.

The service intends to develop a behavioural framework which will describe the appropriate behaviours for staff. We look forward to seeing the new framework and how it will underpin the mission, vision and values. We are interested to see how it will help to achieve cultural change across the service.


How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?


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

Areas for improvement

  • The service should put in place a credible succession plan, for the whole organisation.

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 limited process in place for succession planning. It gives a broad range of updates on issues such as establishment levels, sickness and retirement levels. It is forecast 18 months in advance. This allows the service to plan recruitment campaigns and address any future vacancies. But the human resources function is not included in the succession planning process. So, it cannot contribute to succession planning across the whole organisation.

The distribution of staff across the prevention, protection and response functions is not proportionate to the current risks. The protection team, which is under resourced, is likely to suffer from further shortages soon as staff begin to retire. We saw no evidence of succession planning to give the protection team the resources to achieve the service’s risk-based inspection programme.

The service has an effective process within the control room to address any immediate crewing shortfalls. A dedicated unit manages all other crewing deployments. It plans and arranges crewing levels in relation to staff commitments, training and leave. Despite this, on-call staff expressed frustration that the service did not deploy them to fill gaps at wholetime stations.

The service understands its operational needs and has the right mix of skills. At the start of every shift operational staff are allocated a specific role according to their skill set.

The service keeps records of staff who have a second job. A process is in place for staff who wish to apply for a secondary job. The service does not have a regular review process in place to avoid any potential conflicts of interest.

Learning and improvement

The service uses an e-learning system that offers a broad range of courses. These include operational courses, personal development courses and leadership and management courses. The system is available to all staff in the service. For flexibility, staff can access it remotely.

We found that staff are positive and proud of the training they receive. They feel it gives them the appropriate skills to perform their role. But they do not think that e-learning is always the best training method.

The service has an effective system for monitoring and recording firefighter competency, the specific skills they need to be a good firefighter. The maintenance of skills training (MOST) system has a red, amber and green status indicator, which is linked to the date when a competence is due to expire. This allows managers to plan training events according to the competence expiry date and ensure staff remain competent. The MOST system is used across both the wholetime and on-call duty systems. Staff view it as positive. The senior management team monitors the recording of training on MOST each month.

The service has a well-established process for sharing the outcomes following any local or national debriefs. The service publishes, and emails to all staff, fire alerts and service delivery memos, which provide risk-critical information. Staff electronically record that they have read the document.


How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?


Areas for improvement

  • The service should assure itself that it has effective grievance procedures. It should ensure that it monitors and reviews grievance outcomes. This should extend to implementing a system that allows the central recording of the outcomes of less serious grievances.

Cause of concern

We acknowledge Avon FRS has recently carried out a cultural review and has a plan in place to improve its organisational culture. But it should act immediately to change staff behaviours. It should also make sure all staff understand equality, diversity and inclusion principles and that this a routine part of behaviour across the whole organisation.


By 31 March 2019, the service should:

  • implement the improvements identified from the cultural review;
  • make more staff support networks available; and
  • train all staff in equality, diversity and inclusion.

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 senior management team informed us of their ongoing commitment to visit all staff and locations across the service. But we found mixed opinions about whether the senior leaders are visible to staff. Some staff stated that they had never had a visit from senior management. Conversely, staff based at service headquarters feel that they have greater access to the senior management team.

We found some examples where management had listened to staff feedback and made local improvements. The service established a staff engagement network. It was part of the improvement programme responding to the report on the independent statutory inspection of the service. It has now been established independently as part of the internal communication process between staff and senior management. We look forward to seeing how this group contributes to, and supports the organisation with, its cultural change programme.

The service has a good relationship with staff representative bodies. It offers them opportunities to raise and resolve concerns and consults on matters that may affect its members. As part of the internal improvement programme the service has established working groups and project boards. Representative bodies participate in these groups.

The service has a confidential reporting line and staff trust this facility. Despite this, some staff are not clear about how to access the confidential reporting line. The information was not easy to access on the service’s intranet.

The service has a grievance procedure with clearly defined timescales for action. Some staff, particularly women, feel that the service didn’t respond appropriately to their grievance and they consider the outcome to be unfair and unethical.

The service encourages managers to resolve low-level grievances locally and informally, so that they do not get worse. But we found that there is no formal process to record the resolutions and outcomes. This prevents the service from identifying trends that could be used to support cultural change.


The service is endeavouring to make the organisation more representative of the communities that it serves. But it has had limited success to date. The service has established a diversity, inclusion, cohesion and equality improvement board. It has an independent chair and supports the service with its cultural improvement plan.

The service has also introduced a new recruitment campaign called ‘yes YOU can’. This campaign has specific information for under-represented groups and is well publicised on the service’s website. Data supplied by the service shows that after the most recent campaign, there were successful candidates who were female and some who were from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds. The website includes a promotional video with a diverse range of firefighters sharing their experiences of working in the service.

Throughout our inspection we found evidence that staff do not understand diversity. And they don’t reflect an understanding of diversity in their workplace behaviour. For example, operational staff referred to firefighter roles using gender specific terms, for example, ‘fireman’ rather than ‘firefighter’.

We were also approached by an unprecedented number of staff who asked to speak privately and in confidence about how they were being treated and their experiences within the service. Again, there were common themes. These include being undervalued, humiliated by their peers and being excluded if they spoke out about a problem on the watch. We heard about some concerning examples where female staff had been inappropriately treated.

The service does not have any network groups for BAME or female staff. These would allow them to discuss issues and share their experiences with their peers or senior management in a safe environment.


How well does the FRS develop leadership and capability?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The service should ensure its selection, development and promotion of staff is open, transparent and fair. All promotion panels should have appropriate human resources support.
  • 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

The service has a personal development review (PDR) process. It is an online tool and all staff can access it. After a recent review, the service has improved the process. For example, it added a six-month review and the facility to update the PDR throughout the year.

We established that the completion of PDRs across the service is good and that senior management monitor this each month.

Operational staff have mixed views about the PDR process. They feel that it is only relevant should an individual want promotion. Support staff do not consider the PDR process to be effective. They feel that they are not treated the same as operational staff as it is difficult to determine what development is required for their roles.

Developing leaders

The service does not have a process to identify talented individuals who could be future leaders. Managers do not use the PDR process effectively to identify and develop potential candidates for future promotion. While this applies to all staff, support staff feel that there are limited routes for career progression within the organisation.

We found that staff regard the promotion process as inconsistent and not clear and open. We found inconsistencies in the composition of appointment panels for promotion. In most cases they do not include a member of the human resources team. This added to the perception that the process is not fair. This has not helped the service address equality and diversity in the promotion of its staff.

The service acknowledges the need to make fundamental changes to staff development. It aims to introduce development opportunities for all staff across the organisation. A talent management framework could help the organisation to identify and develop staff with high potential.