Auditors General’s Report to Parliament
The Auditor General’s Report into the Support and Preparedness of Fire and Emergency Services Volunteers was tabled in the WA Parliament today – 20 August 2015. SES Volunteers are to be congratulated in providing a lot of input both personally and to the SES Volunteers Association who then provided a consolidated view to the Office of the Auditor General.
Below are the findings and recommendations. Please follow this link for the full statement and report Support and Preparedness of Fire and Emergency Services Volunteers
There are seven (7) key findings and four (4) recommendations
1. DFES does not know how many volunteers it needs. It has not assessed the number of volunteers required in specific locations to respond to incidents. Without a clear understanding of this, DFES cannot know if it has gaps in its service capability and the seriousness of those gaps. DFES advised it will be creating risk profiles for all services, that take into account physical and human resources before the end of 2015.
2. DFES knows that volunteer membership records are inaccurate and that volunteer numbers are about 20 per cent less than the reported 29 000. This is due in part to both DFES and LGs relying on manual systems to update volunteer records. Further, a significant number of volunteers do not regularly respond to incidents. DFES records do not accurately reflect volunteer availability. Incomplete volunteer training records contribute to this issue, as DFES does not have a clear picture of volunteers trained to respond.
3. Data trends show that volunteer turnover has been an ongoing issue since 2006, with an annual turnover of around 15 per cent across all services. Exit surveys and our discussions with volunteers identified issues around management and supervision styles (of other volunteers and DFES staff) and not feeling valued. To address increasing turnover, DFES is developing an Emergency Services Volunteer Workforce Sustainability Strategy. Although aimed to start in 2014, the draft strategy has still not been circulated for consultation. DFES expect to circulate the strategy by September 2015.
4. DFES knows what operational skills its volunteers need and has developed training programs based on this. However, geographic isolation, availability of trainers and assessors, and inaccurate training records affect training delivery. This means, volunteers may not be appropriately skilled to respond to incidents, potentially leading to significant safety risks.
5. Almost 82 per cent of the respondents to our statewide survey of volunteers said that they had all or most of the equipment they needed to perform their roles. This result was backed by our discussions with volunteers at the sites we visited. However, a few volunteer groups raised concerns around the suitability of some equipment for their local conditions and delays in getting equipment, particularly personal protective clothing.
6. Existing DFES policies do not address volunteer fatigue and as a result, volunteers must self-manage their fatigue. This carries considerable risks when volunteers do not manage their fatigue effectively. For example, it is not unusual for volunteers to respond to an incident after already having worked a full day of paid employment. Fatigue can be physically and mentally hazardous for volunteers and may be a significant occupational health and safety risk during an incident.
7. While volunteers were generally happy with the recognition, counselling, and insurance provided by DFES, some issues exist. Primarily, volunteers and some DFES staff are confused around what services are available to which volunteers. This means that volunteers may not access services such as counselling when required. Planned changes to legislation should help address these issues, but DFES will need to communicate availability of services more effectively.
The Department of Fire and Emergency Services should:
1. Continue to implement the major change projects it has in place, including Professional Pathways, and review them to assess if they will address all the key findings in this report. In particular, within six months DFES should set priorities and begin implementing the Emergency Services Volunteer Workforce Sustainability Strategy.
2. Within 12 months, improve its processes for collecting and maintaining volunteer membership, availability and training records. To do this it will need to work with local governments to improve the accuracy of LG volunteer membership information.
3. Within 12 months, develop volunteer specific policies and procedures, including fatigue management, consistent with the Guidelines for Successful Partnerships between Public Sector Agencies and Volunteers.
4. Within six months, consider improved processes for consulting with and engaging volunteers and continue to work with LGs to improve information sharing and communication. Specifically, DFES should improve communication around its decisions on equipment and training as well as provide better information about access to services.