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Psychological hazards

Hazard Knowledge

The effects of psychological hazards can be as debilitating as a physical injury. Excessive pressure caused by psychological hazards can cause stress, which harms the ability to think, communicate and operate effectively.

Stress occurs when an individual sees a difference between the demands placed on them and their ability to cope. Working under high demands in a challenging environment may also lead to both physical and mental fatigue. Psychological hazards can affect incident command and impair the functioning of a commander, individual or team. For example, anxieties and stressors take up part of a person's mental processing capacity and can distract attention from the situation. This can reduce the available capacity for focusing on and understanding information. If important information is neglected or not processed properly it may lead to an inaccurate mental picture of the situation. Equally the effects of exposure to psychological hazards can be experienced long term (post incident or event), and may not be fully appreciated or experienced if not identified at the earliest stage.

The effect of experiencing and being exposed to psychological hazards can differ from individual to individual and from team to team. As each incident is different, the exact pressures and demands are difficult to predict. Fire and rescue service personnel should be able to function, while being aware of stress and fatigue. They need to communicate, make critical decisions and process information. They should be able to understand how both stress and fatigue affect these processes.

Psychological hazards may be present at any operational incident and most hazards can be identified and appropriate control measures adopted. However, there are subconscious and external underlying reasons (such as previous exposure or history) that the reactions or wellbeing of an individual may differ, or be affected in a variety of ways and at many levels.

Fire and rescue services should develop a culture, awareness and common understanding of psychological hazards and have appropriate post-incident processes in place. These should be supported with occupational health arrangements (such as identifying, reporting, monitoring and self-reporting measures and arrangements).