The fire and rescue service has developed a strong culture of safety through policies which support the application of health and safety law and regulations to the incident ground. This has been achieved in consultation with, and the assistance of, the Health and Safety Executive.
A culture that encourages incident commanders to act in accordance with the intentions of the HSE’s publication ‘Striking the balance between operational and health and safety duties in the Fire and Rescue Service’ should be promoted. Fire and rescue services should be aware this can be undermined by the introduction of procedures that have restrictive elements that prevent the incident commander from being able to apply their professional judgement.
To promote a positive operational safety culture, fire and rescue service operational risk principles have been developed. The principles below can be considered as a guide to making and managing risk-critical decisions at incidents:
Principle 1: A willingness to make decisions in conditions of uncertainty is a core need for all members of the fire and rescue service.
Principle 2: The primary consideration for making decisions is the safety of individuals and communities.
Principle 3: Risk acceptance involves judgment and balance, with decision makers required to consider the value and likelihood of the possible benefits of a particular decision against the seriousness and likelihood of the possible harm.
Principle 4: Harm can never be totally prevented. Risk-critical decisions should therefore be judged by the quality of the decision-making, not by the outcome.
Principle 5: To reduce risk aversion, improve decision-making and avoid decision traps, a culture is required that learns from successes and failures. Good application of risk management which allows for positive operational outcomes should be identified, celebrated and shared, preferably through operational learning and debrief outcomes.
Members of the fire and rescue service who make decisions consistent with these principles should receive the encouragement, approval and support of their organisation.
Fire and rescue services should recognise that every incident will present its own challenges. Its incident commanders and command teams will need to be able to use knowledge, skills, systems and equipment to bring the incident to a safe conclusion.
Incident commanders have a responsibility to promote a positive safety culture on the incident ground through the use of:
- Safe systems of work
- Appropriate supervision
- Effective communication