Challenging Inappropriate Behaviour Toolkit

for the Fire Community, July 2024

Image shows the hands of two people in conversation


Kathryn Billing, Chief Fire Officer, Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service, and National Fire Chiefs Council Lead for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

The NFCC Challenging Inappropriate Behaviour Toolkit is a useful addition to the set of NFCC publications that promote a positive working environment – one where all UK fire and rescue service employees feel safe and valued at work.  

Supported by the Core Code of Ethics and driven by the Culture Action Plan and the NFCC Organisational Culture Statement, the Toolkit aims to support employees in challenging inappropriate or harmful behaviour. This guidance encourages peer-to-peer intervention, giving people the confidence to appropriately address harmful behaviour when they see it. It also includes frameworks and techniques for challenging inappropriate behaviour and proactive measures for fostering a supportive work environment.  

It is vital to address harmful behaviour swiftly and appropriately, and to provide safeguarding support to those on the receiving end of such behaviour. Helping people develop skills to address inappropriate behaviour is one way to make them feel safe. We hope this Toolkit helps services refine and build on existing policies and procedures.  

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this Toolkit by drawing on good practice, lived experience and personal expertise.  



 All fire and rescue services (FRS) are committed to creating a work environment where every employee is safe and treated with dignity and respect. However, every now and then, incidents of inappropriate behaviour arise. Such incidents should be handled swiftly, sensitively and effectively. This Toolkit aims to help you do that.  

Everything we do is underpinned by the Core Code of Ethics and the five ethical principles. To foster an inclusive environment, we prioritise learning and development. We also take a zero-tolerance approach to behaviour that shows a lack of respect for others, or causes people to feel uncomfortable, threatened, harassed, intimidated or harmed.  

The Equality Act places a legal duty on public sector organisations to consider how their actions can foster good relations between people with various protected characteristics, such as age, disability or race. Understanding how to challenge inappropriate behaviour and creating an environment in which people feel psychologically safe to challenge such behaviour can help foster these good relations. Psychological safety is crucial in feeling safe to speak up when behaviours are not consistent with the Core Code of Ethics. It is also vital in feeling able to use the techniques in this Toolkit to challenge inappropriate behaviour. 

Importantly, the Toolkit is not a replacement for bullying and harassment policies. FRS take all allegations of bullying very seriously, investigating them through the proper channels. They may impose a range of disciplinary measures, including dismissal. The NFCC Organisational Culture Statement sets out a clear and consistent approach to zero tolerance, where context and circumstances guide how behaviours are addressed. Inappropriate behaviour may result in formal disciplinary action or informal action, including support and awareness training.  

In all instances, when behaviour shows a lack of respect for others or causes people to feel uncomfortable, threatened, harassed or intimidated, FRS should:  

  • Ensure everyone is clear on what behaviours are unacceptable and why 
  • Call out the behaviour or language when it occurs and in an appropriate environment  
  • Support staff and the public to report concerns and complaints safely and confidentially  
  • Tackle instances of inappropriate behaviour through robust, transparent policies and processes  
  • Take prompt action that is proportionate, appropriate and fair  

Some types of inappropriate behaviour can and should be dealt with in a more informal way, such as: 

  • Speaking up at the time, whether the behaviour is aimed at you or a colleague 
  • Saying the inappropriate words or action are not okay  
  • Pulling someone aside 
  • Talking things through over a coffee 

This Toolkit explains more about how you might do this. It also outlines the potential causes, immediate effects and long-term impact of inappropriate behaviour on our workforce.  

This Toolkit is the result of a collaboration between the NFCC and FRS across the UK. Through the collective expertise and input of FRS professionals nationwide, it provides valuable resources and guidance for effectively addressing inappropriate behaviour in the FRS. The Toolkit is designed to be used in a way that is best suited to individual FRS – for example, as a complete document or to access appropriate tools.  

The partnership between the NFCC and individual FRS highlights the commitment of both bodies to promote a safe, respectful and productive work environment for everyone. Organisationally and individually, we commit to calling out unacceptable behaviours whenever we see them. We are also committed to learning from, and reflecting on, our own behaviours and actions.

Glossary of Terms


In the context of this Toolkit, ‘challenging’ describes the action of calling out, naming, identifying or raising concerns about inappropriate behaviour, so that the behaviour can be addressed appropriately. Behaviour is challenged when it is dealt with and appropriate action is taken. What this looks like in practice will vary depending on the circumstances. This proactive approach aims to promote a culture of accountability, continual improvement and mutual respect among team members. It does this by fostering a positive work environment, rather than focusing solely on the negative actions of individuals.  

Culture (organisational) 

This concept refers to the identity of an organisation and the people who work for it, what they do and how they do it. The culture in a workplace or organisation may take one of two forms: 

  • Inclusive culture: an environment where everyone feels included, and differences are celebrated and embraced  
  • Toxic culture: signs of a toxic workplace culture include: 
    • High levels of staff leaving the organisation 
    • Low employee engagement levels, with staff afraid of speaking up 
    • High levels of absence 
    • High numbers of grievances  
    • Internal procedures that are underused or untrusted  


‘Cultures’ are the shared beliefs, values, customs and behaviours of particular groups or organisations. 

Inappropriate behaviour  

‘Inappropriate behaviour’ is any action that shows a lack of respect for others or causes people to feel uncomfortable, threatened, harassed or intimidated. It may also be considered as any behaviour that is contrary to the five ethical principles outlined in the Core Code of Ethics. 

Psychological safety 

‘Psychological safety’ means feeling safe to speak up and raise concerns without fear of negative consequences or humiliation. It fosters an environment where everyone feels encouraged to share creative ideas and take risks without fear of personal judgement or stepping on someone else’s toes. In such an environment, individuals feel accepted and respected. 


FRS have a legal and moral responsibility to protect those who represent them. They must receive guidance and support on how to safeguard themselves and others effectively. 

Zero tolerance 

‘Zero tolerance’ refers to a way in which an organisation deals with inappropriate language and behaviour. It emphasises that no inappropriate behaviour will be ignored, and all instances will be dealt with proportionately, appropriately and fairly.