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Health and Fitness – Interim Report by Bath University

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Academic research carried out by the dept for health at Bath University and commissioned on behalf of CFOA has recently been published in the form of an interim report. The RFU sat on a national stakeholder panel for the duration of the study and received updates when it met.

Whilst it is acknowledged that this is an interim report, there are aspects of the report which are a cause for concern.

Quoting from the document which can be found here:

“The general fitness standards within the UK FRS are a predicted VO2 max of 42, below which an individual may continue work but is advised to improve fitness; and 35, below which an individual is deemed unacceptable for work until they attain a suitable standard from remedial training."

“The present study indicates that firefighters with an aerobic capacity below an occupational fitness standard of 42.3 would not be guaranteed to be safe and effective in their ability to complete necessary roles within their occupation. Although this does not greatly differ from the current fitness standard of 42, it does indicate that the lower VO2 max standard of 35 for continuation of work with remedial training amongst operational firefighters is potentially unsafe for the majority of firefighters.”

Whilst it is difficult to challenge the accuracy of any piece of academic research, the RFU has to consider the implications of the interim findings from the current situation under which most On-Call firefighters are employed.

We know only too well that currently, the provision of assistance or encouragement by Fire & Rescue Services on On-Call staff to attain and maintain fitness is sporadic to say the least, the report appears to make the assumption that it is for such employees to make their own arrangements regarding their fitness.

We already have examples of where Fire and Rescue Services actively seek to objectively justify their decision not to include fitness programmes within paid weekly routines such as drill sessions, we believe mainly due to cost. On the other hand due to the nature of Wholetime work patterns, there is a captive workforce within the duty system where time is more readily available; equipment is provided on site and no issues over additional cost, the result of which is an unlevel playing field for RDS staff in terms of achieving and maintaining an appropriate level of fitness.

To conclude; the dilemma for Fire and Rescue Services is how to balance the cost of fitness equipment and lifestyle routines for ALL staff, irrespective of duty system and the consequential benefits of a healthy workforce against the real possibility of a significant number of On-Call personnel being dismissed under capability procedures as a result of failing to meet the standard.