SHROPSHIRE was left with only one fire control operator covering certain periods during a “self-rostering” trial, according to a report.

Emergency operations had to be handed over to the Hereford and Worcester service on each occasion, and sickness absence increased during the 2017 test period.

Shropshire’s deputy chief told the fire authority they trialled “flexible rostering” the following year, and found it to be much more effective and popular with the workforce

The fire authority voted to approve flexible rostering, subject to agreement with the Fire Brigades Union.

A report by chief fire officer Rod Hammerton and his deputy Andy Johnson said: “In 2017, following analysis of existing shift patterns within fire control, the service commenced a trial of a self-rostering duty system.”

Officer Johnson explained that this gave the workforce a “blank sheet of paper” and asked to choose their own shifts.

He said this resulted in “little predictability”.

While Shropshire was never left completely without cover, 308 working days were lost to sickness during the year-long trial.

The report said: “There were also six occasions when the service only had one member of Fire Control available, which contributed to emergency operations having to be transferred to Hereford and Worcester [Fire and Rescue Service] on five occasions.

“It was apparent that individuals who work in Fire Control had no desire to work a self-rostered duty system and this caused issues in terms of sickness absence and an increase in the number of shifts operated with only two staff, instead of the optimum three.”

An alternative system, “flexible rostering”, was tested the following year.

“This would involve individuals being assigned to a colour watch to provide consistency and stability for individuals,” Officers Hammerton and Johnson wrote.

“However, when occasions were identified when four members of staff were on duty, a nominated individual would roster off and accrue hours to pay back at a later date, enabling the service to maintain optimum crewing levels.”

Only 103 days were lost to sickness in 2018 and there were no shifts with only one operator on duty.

“Having analysed the available data, it is evident that flexible rostering is an efficient and effective system and is an improvement in all areas,” they added.

Following their recommendation, the Shropshire and Wrekin Fire and Rescue Authority voted to endorse flexible rostering as the permanent system, subject to the approval of the FBU executive council.