Bullying, harassment and discrimination in every fire service, says inspectorate

A new report from His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services calls for appropriate background checks on all firefighters and staff and new misconduct standards to be introduced, including a national barred list and new mechanisms for staff to raise concerns.

The inspectorate has focused on values and culture in 44 fire and rescue services in England, drawing on evidence gathered from its visits and inspection reports. This is the first time the inspectorate has carried out a spotlight report on this topic and was asked to do so by the Minister for Policing and Fire.

The report contains 35 recommendations levelled at government, national bodies and fire and rescue services.

It sets out the extent to which bullying, harassment and discrimination exist across fire and rescue services and finds examples in every single service. HMI Roy Wilsher said that he feared that this was just the tip of the iceberg, citing examples of racism, sexism and homophobia. He said, “We have found trust and respect is too often replaced with derogatory bullying behaviour often excused as banter.”

Too much of fire and rescue service culture is ‘stagnant’, states the report and it needs to be brought into the 21st Century.  He added, “The shocking behaviour means the sector cannot wait another day before it acts.”

Looking at cases of gross misconduct under investigation, HMI said that he was not confident it was the full picture. The report calls for a national barred list of staff dismissed for gross misconduct.

There is no legal obligation for FRS to run background checks such as DBS checks. “This creates an unacceptable risk that must be addressed,” said HMI Wilsher. The report recommends checks are caried out on all new and existing staff.

The report describes how ‘informal sub-cultures’ have formed that lead to exclusionary practices contrary to the organisation’s culture and ‘impenetrable’ to new staff. New recruits reported that they felt they had to assimilate to fit in when joining a fire station and not question local norms as this would lead to ‘career suicide’.

Staff did not feel confident that their reporting would be taken seriously or would be victimised as a result. The inspectorate recommends that all services have a confidential reporting line and more support for staff.

HMI Wilsher said, “I urge Chief Fire Officers, the Government, and national fire bodies to implement the recommendations as a matter of urgency.”


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