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Developed and maintained
by the NFCC


This guidance has been developed to assist fire and rescue services in identifying hazards and implementing control measures for operational incidents that involve the following environments.

These are some of the most complex situations that personnel work in and may involve a combination of these contexts, which can be in the natural or built environment.

This section of guidance relates to environments personnel can operate in. For further guidance for search and rescue of casualties rescue refer to Search ,rescue and Casualty care.


Falls from height can result in fatalities and major injuries. Usual causes are falls from ladders or through fragile roofs. Personnel could be exposed to falls in operational or non-operational environments.

The purpose of the work at height regulations is to prevent death and injury caused by a fall from height. It places duties on employers, including the fire and rescue service, to ensure that all work at height is risk-assessed, properly planned, appropriately supervised and carried out in a manner that is, so far as is reasonably and practicably safe.

Confined spaces

Fatalities and serious injuries occur every year to people while they are working in a confined space, and to people trying to carry out rescues without appropriate training and equipment.

Legislation clearly defines a confined space; operating in these environments requires core and specialist skills, including techniques for working at height. Other environments that do not satisfy the definition of a confined space may be just as challenging, owing to varying degrees of difficulty in access and egress. Dealing with these environments will require similar skill sets and equipment as those for confined spaces.

The guidance is based on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) approved code of practice. It describes the preferred or recommended control measures that should be used, in order that fire and rescue services comply with the confined spaces regulations and the duties imposed by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act.

Above ground and below ground structures

For this guidance, above ground structures generally exclude buildings, unless the condition of the building requires the use of work at height equipment. For example, if stairways or lifts have been compromised, requiring the use of aerial appliances, rope rescue or similar to resolve the incident. Gaining access to structures such as wind turbines and scaffolding will nearly always require specific work at height equipment.

Incidents involving below ground structures may also require specialised techniques and equipment, including those needed for work at height and in confined spaces.

Any of the above may involve a collapsed or unstable structure and could include a combination of hazards.

Buildings under construction

Large-scale incidents involving any structure, during construction or in use, are uncommon, which makes it difficult for fire and rescue services to gain experience and test procedures. However, the fundamental principles of operational response should remain the same. All personnel who liaise with contractors or infrastructure managers should consider training in the skills and techniques required.

Although certain hazards will be common to all incidents, the environment in which they occur will vary. This is particularly the case during construction, where access and intervention will require specific strategies and procedures.

Unstable or collapsed structures

Fire and rescue services may be called to attend incidents involving unstable or collapsed structures. The National Resilience urban search and rescue (USAR) capability has designated tactical advisers (TacAds) who may be able to provide appropriate advice and resource for these types of incidents.

The issue for attending fire and rescue service personnel is that unstable or collapsed structures are unpredictable. They are also resource intensive and arduous to work in.