NSW State Emergency Service Management of Volunteers

Better planning for SES volunteers urgently required

The SES needs to better understand the location, availability and skills of its volunteers so it can properly plan for emergency events. It needs to improve how it selects and retains the right volunteers and provide more up-to-date and focused training.

The SES has improved volunteer safety with injury claims falling by 40 per cent to 70 in the four years to 30 June 2013. The average cost of claims has fallen by 58 per cent to $3,547. The SES attributes this reduction to better equipment and work practices.

Volunteer capacity unclear

Only one of the State’s 16 emergency service regions has developed a plan on what emergency events are likely in their area, how many and what type of volunteers it needs and whether there is a shortfall. Some other regions have made a start and preliminary assessments indicate some significant shortfalls in volunteer numbers.

‘Regional capability plans need to be completed so an overall picture of the State’s SES volunteer workforce can be established,’ said the NSW Auditor-General, Grant Hehir. ‘This will provide the SES with a sound platform to prepare for emergencies,’ he added.

Training needs not being met

The SES is not currently meeting the training needs of its volunteers. It does not analyse its Statewide training needs or evaluate the effectiveness of its training.

Most volunteer training packages have been suspended as they are no longer compliant with national public safety training standards. While this was partly due to recent work health and safety changes, poor planning and a failure to keep up-to-date over the last decade has contributed to the problem.

‘The SES needs to identify volunteer training priorities and provide up-to-date training to its volunteers,’ said the Auditor-General.

High volunteer turnover

Twenty-six per cent of SES volunteers in New South Wales leave each year compared to 20 per cent nationally. Only half of the estimated 1,700 volunteers who join each year are active members 12 months later. In addition, many volunteers do not respond to emergency call outs. These factors impose additional demands on the SES and can cost over $1,000 per volunteer just for protective gear that is not used.

‘More needs to be done to retain volunteers. The SES should focus on recruiting volunteers that suit individual emergency unit's needs, improve induction and training, have clear pathways for volunteers to take on responsibility and improve consultation, communication and recognition,’ said the Auditor-General.

‘A charter for volunteers that clarifies roles and expectations would help, as would systems that are easier for volunteers to use,’ he added.

Further information

Barry Underwood, Executive Officer, 9275 7220 or 0403 073 664; email: barry.underwood@audit.nsw.gov.au.