Operational audits

Control Measure Knowledge

Operational audits should be used to ensure the organisation is in a state of readiness for operational response. This process is good practice and may also support a fire and rescue authority’s duties. For example, under the Fire and Rescue National Framework for England, there is a requirement to produce an annual statement of assurance.

It should be noted that operational audits are not connected with the National Resilience assurance process.

Operational audits can help to improve the effectiveness and implementation of:

  • Policies and procedures
  • Hazard identification
  • Risk assessments
  • The operational response
  • Operational assurance of incidents

The process will require the appointment of operational assurance officers, who are appropriately trained to assess and monitor the performance of other personnel.

Operational audits may also be a source of information for operational learning and risk management planning.


Operational audits should be used to help a fire and rescue service to understand the responsibilities and risks faced by their personnel. An audit should determine if there are efficient, effective and reliable processes in place for the gathering of operational information and data. The audit process should predetermine the areas to be covered and the benchmarks against which the information will be measured, including:

  • Preventing injury or illness of personnel and other emergency responders
  • Managing and mitigating risks in the community
  • Continual improvement in providing accurate, relevant and timely operational information
  • Compliance with the legislative duties of fire and rescue authorities in relation to operational risk information
  • Compliance with policies and procedures
  • The service’s ability to meet their operational and strategic objectives

Audits should be planned on a regular basis to carry out a full and critical appraisal of the service’s operational risk management system. These should aim to:

  • Support continual improvement and address weaknesses in policies or the organisation
  • Identify the need for an independent audit as part of a robust review programme
  • Assess the level of control exercised by management
  • Identify opportunities for improvement
  • Provide senior managers with an understanding of the degree to which management has achieved its responsibilities and has put in place systems that reduce operational risk, including:
    • Reliability and integrity of operational information
    • Effectiveness and efficiency of operations
    • Safeguarding of assets and data
    • Compliance with legislation, regulations and contracts

Monitoring performance

Measuring performance against predetermined standards provides information on how effectively fire and rescue services are controlling risks, and provides feedback that can influence organisational learning and the decision-making process.

Performance indicators can be used for qualitative and quantitative monitoring of organisational performance, as part of an ongoing review process for the operational risk management system.

Arrangements should also be made to review any circumstances where unacceptable performance is identified, whether during training or at incidents. The reasons for the unacceptable performance should be determined, rectified and communicated if appropriate.

It is important that any lessons learned gained through identifying and managing unacceptable performance are shared, so as to benefit the entire organisation and feed the process of continuous improvement.

Debrief management systems

Debrief management systems are essential to ensure a robust and consistent means of capturing the outcomes of monitoring, audit or review of operational tasks and activities.

Debriefs are a key component of continuous improvement in all organisations. Features of a good debrief management system are:

  • The ability to record all information relating to an incident, including any associated and relevant documentation, such as:
    • Policies and procedures
    • Training manuals
    • Site-Specific Risk Information (SSRI)
    • Standard operating procedures (SOPs)
  • Record who has been assigned any tasks resulting from the debrief
  • The ability to produce reports based on the information collected from all debriefs
  • Producing data that can be used for scrutiny, discussion and action purposes
  • Capturing and monitoring any recommended actions to ensure:
    • Appropriate changes are implemented
    • Target dates are met
    • That final outcomes of individual issues are published and reviewed

Strategic Actions