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:
Emotional reactions from public
Hazards and risk
Spans of control
Consequences of failure
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.