A Human Factors analysis of Firefighter injury sustained during emergency response operations
: Implications for error management and injury reduction in English Fire and Rescue Services.

  • William Albert Michael Gough

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This research is concerned with the human factors that may contribute to firefighter injury and whether the Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) adequately acknowledges their influence when investigating, recording, analysing, or reporting accident causation. In particular, the extent to which, as critical decision makers, firefighters experience the deficit outcome of their own risk-v-benefit decisions when operating without the immediate oversight of a supervisor or commander. Studies of judgement and decision making specifically focused on the role of firefighter as opposed to their incident commanders are exceptional.

For the first time in the analysis of firefighter injury, a number of variables that represent the preconditions of accident causation such as the demographic, temporal, environmental and contextual characteristics were analysed. An ‘error typing’ taxonomy that differentiates between decision errors, skill-based errors, perception errors and violations was used to examine the extent to which human factors are being considered by FRSs in the analysis of firefighter injury. Opportunity was also taken to examine the applicability of the Human Factors Analysis and Classification System (HFACS) (Weigmann and Shappell 2003), to the emergency response domain of the FRS. This revealed the value of developing a valid and reliable sector specific variant of HFACS (UKFire-HFACS). Finally, using the critical decision method, recollection of the contextual characteristics that influenced the judgements, decisions, and actions at the ‘moment-of-choice’ of injured firefighters was also explored. Three studies that when combined establish components of a Human Factors Analysis Framework (HFAF) for the FRS.

It was established that when implementing the requirements of an incident commander’s tactical plan, firefighters are required to make critical decisions and at times experience injury when operating without the immediate oversight of a supervisor or commander. Analysis demonstrated how the majority of injuries involve either a decision based or skill-based error which substantiates the existence and influence of skill fade at the ‘moment-of-choice’. It also brings FRS arrangements for the maintenance of competence into focus and worthy of closer scientific scrutiny. It is also evident that the approach of this research using three studies can be developed into a human factors analysis framework for the FRS. In turn this can establish the means by which the deficit outcome of firefighter critical decision making can be better understood, enable targeted intervention, and over time, reduce reported operational injury.
Date of Award2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University
SupervisorGail Steptoe-Warren (Supervisor), Thomas Rhys-Evans (Supervisor), Steve Scott (Supervisor) & Don Harris (Supervisor)

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