Fire and Rescue Services need to improve whistleblowing procedures to address cultural concerns
The Minister of State for Crime, Policing and Fire commissioned an independent report on values and culture in the fire and rescue services (FRSs). The report findings are stark and shows that the FRS is falling short of the high standards which should be demanded from a service which keeps the public safe. Since 2018, inspections have shown a recurring theme of long-standing and deep-rooted, poor behaviour in the fire service. This includes, bullying, harassment and discrimination. A code of ethics was implemented and although many services are working towards this, the inspectorate has concluded not enough progress has been made. The inspectorate has recognised the importance of good whistleblowing practices for rectifying cultural issues and addresses this in the list of recommendations.
The report indicates a number of issues with concern raising in the fire service. Some staff have described a lack of trust in the processes for concern raising, a belief nothing will be done and a fear of victimisation. A number of situations are outlined in the report, including staff raising concerns and being told they must have misheard, this was ‘purely banter’ or being threatened. The report also describes how staff might be reluctant to raise concerns, as they have little faith in their manager’s ability to handle them. Furthermore, in several services the inspectorate found a ‘worrying trend’ that staff felt they couldn’t raise concerns unless they were part of an ‘old boys’ club’.
Concern raising is crucial in all workplaces, especially those which are a high-risk environment. Fire fighters need to trust one another in order to keep the public, and each other, safe. This relies upon staff having a secure way to raise concerns, to ensure serious issues are addressed and investigated appropriately. See below a summary of whistleblowing recommendations in the report:
- A confidential way for staff to raise concerns and ensure staff are made aware of whistleblowing processes.
- A review be conducted into external concern raising and ensure staff have access to an independent reporting line.
- A review be conducted into support available for those who raise concerns and action be taken to ensure it is suitable.
- Those who raise concerns be updated on how the concerns are being handled and consideration be given to creating a professional standards function, which handles and oversees conduct concerns.
- Staff and the public be provided with accessible information on how to raise concerns and access confidential support and information be provided on how concerns will be investigated confidentially and independent of the alleged perpetrator.
Protecting whistleblowers, supporting employers
Protect has received calls to its confidential advice line service from FRS workers across the country. Many have described cultural issues in the workplace similar to those mentioned in the report.
FRS workers can call our confidential whistleblowing advice line Monday – Friday, to receive strategic advice on the safest and most effective ways to raise concerns in the workplace.
Protect is campaigning for improved whistleblowing standards, to ensure robust systems are in place so that employees can safely raise concerns with the knowledge these will be addressed appropriately.
Fire and Rescue Services leaders who want to improve their procedures should contact our Business Support team to find out more about how Protect helps employers develop best practice whistleblowing arrangements.
Written by Charlotte Earl