As every fire and rescue service knows, saving lives can be a risky business. The threat to the health and wellbeing of emergency service personnel is inherent in what they do on a daily basis.
But we live in financially constrained times - there is increasing pressure on chief fire officers to make "efficiency savings".
Humberside has reviewed its health and safety training to ensure that it was doing everything it could to mitigate the risks, not only of those men and women responding to 999 calls, but its support staff as well. As a result of the review, Humberside Fire and Rescue Service adopted new health and safety training packages, saved £43,000 over two years and changed the organisations health and safety culture.
By investing in health and safety training for all staff - operational and support - the service has seen a steady decline in the number of accidents reported under RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations) and a new attitude towards health and safety form amongst its managers.
The problemBefore 2006, health and safety training was delivered by watch based officers with little health and safety expertise. The training for operational staff at the Fire Service was in the form of lectures, based on the legal aspects of health and safety and specific training on occupational hazards, whilst training for support staff existed, it was ad-hoc.
Paul Gabbitas, health and safety manager for Humberside Fire and Rescue Service said: "Health and safety training is vital for the Service.
"Back in 2006 we conducted a review of our health and safety training programme and were surprised to find our support staff, who make up just 24% of our workforce, were three times more likely to suffer an accident than our operations teams."
Humberside Fire and Rescue Service underwent a much needed training needs analysis and a cultural audit. The audit identified the need to provide a structured approach to the delivery of health and safety training for all members of staff, to improve the health and safety culture within the service at all levels from a new entrant to senior executives.
Paul added: "Analysis of our accident data and absence management system identified that support staff were reporting more accidents and taking more sick days off than operational staff. The main reason for this identified trend was a lack of awareness of common hazards in the workplace.
"Something needed to be done to help improve our effectiveness and efficiency as a public service so we invested in new training packages."
The solutionAfter considering a number of health and safety courses available on the market Humberside turned to the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health's (IOSH) Working Safely and Managing Safely courses.
Tracey Wright commercial development manager at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) said: "Our training courses have been designed to get delegates involved with the learning.
"Delegates learn what they need to know in an interactive way with games, quizzes and an animated presentation and can be catered to the unique needs of an individual organisation."
Every member of staff at Humberside Fire and Rescue Service has to complete the IOSH Working Safely course which is suitable for all staff of every role or level, providing a basic grounding of health and safety. Mangers and those responsible for others are also given IOSH Managing Safely training. The Managing Safely course brings managers up to speed with what's involved in looking after the health and safety of their teams and their working environment.
Paul Gabbitas said: "We have such a diverse workforce here at Humberside that the IOSH courses have proven to be ideal.
"We can deliver the courses and add our own touch to them referring specifically to our working conditions and available resources. The fact that we have chosen IOSH courses is also great for our employees as they are a nationally recognised professional standard."
Reaping the benefitsInitially, Humberside Fire and Rescue Service employed external training providers to deliver its health and safety courses. However, as more people were sent on the IOSH courses, it was decided that they would be more efficiently delivered in house.
Paul Gabbitas said: "One of the main benefits of us bringing health and safety training in-house was financial - over the past two years we have saved approximately £43,000 by conducting Managing and Working Safely here.
"Also, because the courses are being delivered by our own health and safety staff we can introduce real life case studies into appropriate modules which delegates can and do relate to. This contributes to generating topical debate around certain issues specific to their local area."
Caroline Holden, IOSH executive director of commercial, said: "IOSH courses are extremely flexible. Hundreds of commercial and in-house training providers across the UK deliver Managing and Working Safely. "We've recently launched a campaign called Life Savings whereby IOSH has proven that investing in good health and safety is good for business and could potentially save the UK economy £22 billion a year.
"Bosses should look closely at health and safety. Ensuring their workforce is healthy and safe will have a positive impact on business, increasing productivity, reducing sickness and increasing overall staff morale.
"Humberside Fire and Rescue Service are a prime example of an organisation that has invested in health and safety training and now seeing some great benefits."
Saving £43,000 in two years has allowed Humberside Fire and Rescue Service to reinvest in further measures to manage health and safety effectively. The service has purchased an intranet accident reporting system which allows them to track accidents, near misses, equipment damage, acts of aggression and causes for concern. The system then analyses root courses, identifies trends and assists in planning steps to remedy issues.
On top of that, Humberside has employed two health and safety practitioners, who have gained RoSPA Approved Quality Safety Auditor Status, allowing the service to conduct internal audits of their own health and safety management system.
Benefits to staffHumberside Fire and Rescue Service have embedded health and safety at grass roots and supervisory management level, by raising staff awareness of the hazards in their workplace and giving them the necessary tools to minimise risk. This in turn has contributed to a reduction in the number of workplace accidents and near misses.
Paul Gabbitas added: "We are now seeing that managers view health and safety as an essential part of their job, not something they do in addition.
"It's second nature that our managers engage the workforce in the risk assessment process and keep them informed of the significant hazards in their workplace. More importantly, managers are keeping staff informed of what is being done to reduce risks.
"This shift in culture has had a knock on effect, promoting and achieving safer and healthier workplace conditions through effective `upward` communication of concerns about health and safety related issues."
During the first three years the Humberside Fire and Rescue Service delivered Managing and Working Safely, the number of accidents reported increased - staff were actually more aware of the need to report accidents and near misses so that they could be investigated and prevented. Since then, the Service has reported that the number of accidents has been in steady decline. The number of on duty accidents causing injury has decreased by 47% since 2009. And, overall RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations) major accidents account for two per cent of all accidents since 2007.
Striving for health and safety excellenceHealth and safety remains a key part in the culture of the Humberside Fire and Rescue Service as Paul Gabbitas explained: "Training helps people acquire the skills, knowledge and attributes to make them competent in the health and safety aspects of their work. This training includes formal off the job training, instruction to individuals and groups, and on the job coaching.
"However, training is only one way of ensuring satisfactory health and safety performance. It's also necessary to integrate health and safety requirements into job specifications and ensure that health and safety is at the heart of everything we do."
Humberside Fire and Rescue Service have introduced a four year plan to ensure that health and safety remains at a high standard and does not slip.
Paul added: "We believe an integrated effective health and safety system requires strong leadership, workforce involvement and engagement and competent, relevant expert advice and guidance. But, of all of these things leadership is by far the most important because without leadership and commitment to create the right culture, it would be impossible to motivate personnel to play their part.
"Health and safety in any organisation whether it is a fire service or small business should not be portrayed as a `burden` and a must-do, it should be a real driver for performance improvement and business efficiency."
Posted: 09.58, 29.06.11, firstname.lastname@example.org