Striking the balance: no more heroes anymore?
The HSE Launched its statement 'Striking the balance between operational and health and safety duties in the Fire and Rescue Service' to widespread acclamation in the media.
At the IOSH Conference in Glasgow (2010), it was stated on numerous occasions how this was going to make things better, indeed IOSH carried links to it in their news items. The Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) welcomed the document and even FIRE paid tribute to it in the April 2010 issue stating: 'The breadth and depth of support for this statement should not be understated…' [Our support was measured in terms of urging work to be undertaken on overhauling the Safe Person Concept, Dynamic Risk Assessments and the like (see FIRE April 2010, pg 5) - Ed].
Why then does the author find no particular solace in the content of the document, and believe it adds nothing of value to the invidious position many incident commanders are placed in, on a day-to-day basis?
I am compelled to make it evident from the start that I have had no input into this 'Strategic High Level' document. Neither am I aware at the time of writing of the content of the proposed supporting documentation which will follow. This is written taking the document at face value, but attempting to contextualise some of the contradictions facing an operational officer in a fire and rescue service.
On joining the service in 1982, I learned a number of new skills from colleagues who at that time were, to this fresh faced recruit, grizzled old(er) men who had tackled some of the fiercest fires in Glasgow, usually without breathing apparatus and in doing so had lost a large number of their colleagues. Nevertheless we continued to develop our firefighting and rescue tactics utilising a range of skills including adapting our equipment for alternative uses.
Frequently a short extension ladder was used as an impromptu stretcher, or a dam built from salvage sheets and ladders, lowering a 13.5 ladder to bridge a chasm and a variety of other scenarios. These actions were not taken without risk assessments (although it was not called that then) they were done safely, practically and in our case oblivious to any potential litigation.
In the intervening years, health and safety has progressed immeasurably. The advent of risk assessments - Dynamic and Generic as well as Analytical - has served the United Kingdom Fire and Rescue Service (UKFRS) well. For a long time, thankfully, there were very few firefighter deaths. The blend of experience allied to a sensible approach to risk assessment ensured that the Fire and Rescue Service was able to undertake its duties in a very professional and practical manner. So what has changed?
A creeping culture of risk aversion has emerged over the last 10 or so years. Health and safety prosecutions, the repeal of the Fire Service (Appointment and Promotion) Regulations 1978 (which removed the statutory exams), removal of minimum time in post requirements, allied to the now well-documented lack of experience of some supervisory ranks, has all contributed to this culture.
In 2008 the author wrote an article for FIRE outlining what Strathclyde Fire and Rescue were undertaking in an attempt to counter this. The introduction of our 'Ticket to Ride' scheme and an Operational Incident Command Assessment prior to promotions, were only some of the measures introduced. So why in 2011 are there still issues of conflicting priorities at operational incidents (author's own experience).
It is the author's assertion that, in spite of the HSE proclamation about 'Striking the balance', these sentiments do not appear to have been transferred into actions.
Read more of this great article in the next issue of FIRE magazine.
Posted: 16.34pm, 18.04.11
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