Control measure knowledge

An incident can be a challenging environment to work in. The location, tasks and uncertainty of what might happen puts pressure on incident commanders and crews. An appropriate level of pressure can have a positive effect by increasing alertness. However, excessive pressure can cause stress, which may limit the ability to think, communicate and operate effectively.

Stress occurs when an individual experiences a difference between the demands placed on them and their ability to cope. Working in demanding or challenging environments may also lead to physical and mental fatigue.

Incident commanders and the teams they lead should be able to function while being aware of stress and fatigue. They need to communicate, make critical decisions and process varying pieces of information. They should be able to understand how both stress and fatigue affect these processes. See National Operational Guidance: Operations and The Foundation for Incident Command.

Types of pressure

The kind of pressure that can lead to stress will differ between individuals. Some typical demands that may cause stress include:

Incident environment

Task

Uncertainty

Noise

Heat

Emotional reactions from public

Moral pressure

Upsetting scenes

Conflict

Fatigue

Time pressure

Hazards and risk

Performance anxiety

Workload

Spans of control

Consequences of failure

Life risk

Multiple goals

Conflicting goals

Incomplete information

Unexpected event

Unfamiliar or ambiguous scenario

Failed plan or control action

People differ in the way stress can affect them. Some effects can be subtle changes from normal behaviour. There is no definitive list of behavioural indicators and the effects can differ between individuals. Stress can affect incident command. It may lead to:

  • Impaired situational awareness
  • Impaired decision-making
  • Impaired communication
  • Impaired teamwork
  • Impaired performance
  • Impaired leadership

Effects of stress on teams

When team members experience stress it can impair how the team functions. Stress can cause teams to communicate less effectively, which can affect team situational awareness and lead to errors.

Coping with fatigue

Fatigue is a physical and/or mental state of feeling tired and weak. Physical fatigue results in an inability to continue functioning at normal levels of physical ability. Mental fatigue affects concentration and thought processes. Although mental and physical fatigue are different, they often occur at the same time. Physical work and extremes such as temperature and weather can have an impact on crews.

For further information, refer to the Health, Safety and welfare framework for the operational environment.

Strategic actions

Fire and rescue services should:
  • Ensure that people working under stressful conditions are aware of the effects and symptoms of stress. They should prepare them to be able to operate in stressful environments. There should be adequate training and support processes to prepare personnel for the pressures of incident command
  • Ensure incident commanders are able to recognise the effects of stress in both themselves and others, and understand how stress may affect their ability to command an incident.
  • Consider the effects of fatigue on incident commanders and other operational personnel involved at an incident, ensuring options are available to manage the effects of fatigue. These include:

    • Rotating crews
    • Arranging welfare
    • Providing reliefs

    The right time for these arrangements will depend on the type of incident and its duration. Procedures should include the actions incident commanders should take before fatigue begins to reduce performance

Tactical actions

Incident commanders should:
  • Recognise the negative effects that stress and fatigue can have on themselves and others

  • Consider relief and welfare arrangements to reduce the effects of stress and fatigue on themselves and others