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May 10, 2011

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Lords to discuss removal of police safety legislation

The House of Lords has commenced a committee debate of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which includes a proposed clause that would repeal sections of the Police (Health and Safety) Act 1997.
Lord Blencathra, who served as a government whip under Margaret Thatcher, is proposing a new clause to the Bill, which would prevent any police commissioner or chief officer of police from being prosecuted under health and safety legislation in performing their duties. Such individuals would also be exempt from liability for compensation for any injuries caused as a result of a breach of health and safety law in performing their duties – unless they have acted maliciously, or with reckless disregard for the safety of others.
The above amendments are reaffirmed by Lord Blencathra’s proposal to repeal sections 1, 2 and 5 of the Police (Health and Safety) Act 1997. The peer suggests that HM Inspectorate of Constabulary shall issue general health and safety guidance to all police forces, but that any breaches of the guidance would not result in prosecution, or civil action.
The Bill debate, which began yesterday (11 May) follows the Met Police chief’s recent remarks to the Daily Telegraph, in which he questioned whether safety legislation is appropriate for the emergency services.
Commenting after the inquest into the 7 July London bombings, Sir Paul Stephenson said: “Health and safety is important for my staff but they engage in the risk business. Cops join the force, knowing they have to put their life on the line. Thankfully, very few pay the ultimate price.”
He added he did not want to criticise officers who get injured when taking risks, or for risk assessments to be carried out on every occasion.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) felt Sir Paul’s comments were not without justification. The group’s lead for workforce development, Chief Constable Peter Fahy, said: “There is still some concern among officers that their actions will not be judged in terms of the particular pressures they faced at the time of an incident but viewed with the benefit of hindsight in the cold light of day. They are also concerned at the length of time the investigations can take, which can leave officers under threat of prosecution for many years.
“The fact is that, every day, police forces see officers disregard their own health and safety to protect the public and capture offenders.”
The UK Police Federations of England and Wales, and Scotland, believe the Police (Health and Safety) Act, as it stands, serves both the public and the police effectively, and stressed that it is the way health and safety law has been interpreted that has led to “isolated anomalies”.
They also argued that the Act has resulted in significant improvements in the health, safety and welfare of front-line police officers while still allowing effective policing to be achieved.
IOSH also feels the proposal would be a retrograde step. Nick Cornwell-Smith, an IOSH past-president and chair of the Association of Police Health and Safety Advisors, warned: “This removal of the legislation could mean that when police officers and police staff are working in the same office, conducting joint patrols, investigating serious accidents, one party would be protected by health and safety legislation, whilst the other would not.
“Lord Young of Graffham has already considered this matter and decided not to make any recommendations about the removal of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act from the Police and Fire Services. Other measures are already in place to ensure that the health and safety of police officers and police staff does not result in conflict with their duty to the public and themselves.”
Last month the Crown Prosecution Service issued new guidance, which asserted that police officers and fire-fighters who fail to take reasonable care of their own safety in the course of undertaking a “heroic act” should not be prosecuted under s7 of the HSWA.
In 2009, the HSE also issued guidance on a common-sense approach to managing health and safety in the Police Service.
Following the Lords’ committee, the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill will move through two further stages, before the amended document is considered in both Houses.

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