Published 10 May 2023
New research into health and wellbeing of UK fire and rescue sector makes series of recommendations
Research which surveyed more than 3,000 UK fire and rescue service (FRS) personnel has found that mental wellbeing across the service is being impacted by issues such as sleep disruption, occupational stress, burnout, anxiety, and depression.
Carried out by Nottingham Trent University (NTU) and commissioned by the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and The Fire Fighters Charity, findings also suggest that increased length of career – not related to age – is associated with experiencing more mental wellbeing challenges.
However, wellbeing was found to be improved by work engagement, social support, resilient coping, and by both job and life satisfaction. Exercise is also positively associated to work engagement, job satisfaction, perceived social support, life satisfaction, and resilience. It is also linked to lower levels of burnout, anxiety, stress, and depression.
Along with the survey, which was carried out across all roles – from frontline firefighters to support and control staff – researchers completed a comprehensive review of available literature to bring together a holistic view of FRS worker wellbeing across role and career position for the first time.
The study has led to the development of 13 key priorities which will be used to inform the next UK-wide fire and rescue sector health and wellbeing strategy and include:
- Supporting individuals to own their own wellbeing
- Taking a holistic approach from new starter, through career and into retirement
- Applying the sector’s prevention talents to its own wellbeing
- Adopting an evidence-based, holistic approach to health and wellbeing, instead of treating physical, psychological and social wellbeing separately
- Creating shared health and wellbeing language across the sector
- Developing and using data to measure wellbeing trends and impact
- Scaling up the use of data from a local to a national level
- Encouraging a flexible approach to health and wellbeing
- Establishing a dedicated analytical group/body to undertake health economy modelling and leadership
- The NFCC adopting a framework that acknowledges the influence of lifestyles and environmental factors
- Reviewing the governance structure of the NFCC People Programme and Health and Wellbeing Board, to ensure that its membership is aligned to a new strategy
- Sharing of resources across the sector, ensuring they are presented and communicated in an accessible manner
- Creating ‘tasking groups’ with responsibility for specific aspects of the health and wellbeing needs assessment.
Lead researcher Rowena Hill, Professor of Resilience, Emergencies and Disaster Science at NTU’s School of Social Sciences, said: “This comprehensive study comes amid changes in society which may affect the way the Fire and Rescue Service operates, and inevitably lead to increasing pressures and responsibilities for staff.
“Our findings showed that when life and work stress connect, one makes the other more difficult to cope with and there is a need for a wide range of support offerings for all FRS staff, not just operational roles. The results and recommendations have been tested with a range of stakeholders to ensure they can be understood and acted upon to support the sector and its staff.”
Ian Hayton, Chair, National Fire Chief Council’s Health and Wellbeing Board, said: “Supporting fire and rescue service staff to look after their health and wellbeing is of vital importance to all Chief Fire Officers and the National Fire Chiefs Council and remains a key focus for all UK fire and rescue services.
“The much-needed academic research has brought together the available evidence and has highlighted key areas to consider in bridging the gap between the current approach to health and wellbeing in the Service and the desired future state.
“This research will now form the foundation and evidence base to guide the development of national strategies and policies, good practice guidance, and intervention techniques and tools.
“With a collaborative approach to delivery, we will work towards a shift in organisational culture to one that prioritises health and wellbeing, with a key focus on the protection and promotion of wellbeing, and the provision of timely access to evidence-based support for those staff in need.”
Dr Jill Tolfrey, Chief Executive, The Fire Fighters Charity said: “We commissioned this research, together with the National Fire Chiefs Council, in order to better understand the health and wellbeing needs of the fire and rescue service workforce and the gaps in support that need filling. We wholeheartedly support the recommendations and identified priorities highlighted by the team at Nottingham Trent University and are committed to working in partnership with fire and rescue services, the NFCC and government to deliver change and improve the health and wellbeing of fire and rescue service personnel.”
NOTES FOR EDITORS
- Commissioned and funded by: the National Fire Chiefs Council and the Fire Fighters Charity. Grant funding from the Home Office was used to facilitate the delivery of parts of this project.
- Health and wellbeing survey: 3,084 responses. Data was gathered between June and August 2022.
- Key priorities document: Hill, R., Pickford, R., Abdelmalak, E., Afolayan, S., Nadeem, L., Stock, C. (2023). Key Priorities for the Next Fire and Rescue Sector Health and Wellbeing Strategy. Nottingham: Nottingham Trent University.
- Project Page with supporting documents: https://bit.ly/FRSWellbeingProject
ABOUT NOTTINGHAM TRENT UNIVERSITY
Nottingham Trent University (NTU) received the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2021 for cultural heritage science research. It is the second time that NTU has been bestowed the honour of receiving a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its research, the first being in 2015 for leading-edge research on the safety and security of global citizens.
The Research Excellence Framework (2021) classed 83% of NTU’s research activity as either world-leading or internationally excellent. 86% of NTU’s research impact was assessed to be either world-leading or internationally excellent.
NTU was awarded The Times and The Sunday Times Modern University of the Year 2023 and ranked University of the Year in the Whatuni Student Choice Awards 2023. It was awarded Outstanding Support for Students 2020 (Times Higher Education Awards), University of the Year 2019 (Guardian University Awards, UK Social Mobility Awards), Modern University of the Year 2018 (Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide) and University of the Year 2017 (Times Higher Education Awards).
NTU is the 5th largest UK institution by student numbers, with approximately 40,000 students and more than 4,400 staff located across five campuses. It has an international student population of 7,000 and an NTU community representing over 160 countries.
Since 2000, NTU has invested £570 million in tools, technology, buildings and facilities.
NTU is in the UK’s top 10 for number of applications and ranked first for accepted offers (2021 UCAS UG acceptance data). It is also among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and was the first UK university to sign the Social Mobility Pledge.
NTU is ranked the second most sustainable university in the world in the 2022 UI Green Metric University World Rankings (out of more than 900 participating universities).
ABOUT NATIONAL FIRE CHIEFS COUNCIL
The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) is the professional voice of the UK fire and rescue service.
NFCC drives improvement and development throughout the UK FRS, while supporting strong leadership – including for the devolved administrations.
NFCC delivers an approach where everyone works together and offers up sector-led solutions.
You can read our strategy, operating principles, derogation provisions and our operating model structure.
ABOUT THE FIRE FIGHTERS CHARITY
Delivering specialist health and wellbeing information and support to enable a healthier and happier UK fire services community, The Fire Fighters Charity blends innovative digital services with face-to-face and community-based programmes, to offer each of its beneficiaries and fire community organisations tailored support to meet individual need.
To find out more visit www.firefighterscharity.org.uk, call the Charity’s Support Line on 0800 3898820 or download the My Fire Fighters Charity app. The Charity supports serving and retired fire and rescue service personnel, their dependants and other eligible members of the UK fire services community.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
National Fire Chiefs Council: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Fire Fighters Charity: Contact the Marketing & Engagement Team on 01256 366582 or email@example.com