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October 6, 2009

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HSE and Police chiefs agree policy on health and safety in operations

Recent heated debate over whether or not health and safety laws should apply to police activities has prompted a joint statement on the need for a common-sense approach from the HSE and Police Service chiefs.

Issued earlier today (Wednesday) by the Executive, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and ACPO in Scotland (ACPOS), the policy statement sets out how to strike a balance between operational and health and safety duties in the Police Service. It follows a period of collaboration between the HSE and police bodies to develop a better understanding of each other’s responsibilities and needs, after a number of recent incidents in which police officers claimed they could not carry out their duties because of health and safety restrictions.

The issue was also placed firmly in the spotlight by the prosecution of the Metropolitan Police under the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act in relation to the shooting of Brazilian civilian Jean Charles de Menezes in London in 2005. The guilty verdict against the Met under section 3(1) provoked an outcry, with one chief constable accusing Britain of having “a health and safety Taliban”. (Click here for our original report on the case.) 

The HSE, ACPO and ACPOS have now pledged to work together with other stakeholders, including the National Policing Improvement Agency, to ensure that police operational guidance reflects the agreement outlined in the ‘Striking the balance’ statement.

Said HSE chair, Judith Hackitt: “HSE and senior police officers want to stamp out the myth that health and safety duties prevent the police from doing their duty. Police work is unique in that it involves decision-making and risk-taking in fast-moving situations. This statement will assist senior police officers in balancing the risks involved in their duties to fight crime and protect the public, with meeting their health and safety obligations to their own employees and the public.”

The ACPO lead for workforce development and Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, Peter Fahy, added: “Policing is a very specialised profession, and good health and safety practices are vital to the welfare of our staff and the public. Our officers find themselves in situations every day that require them to make tough decisions in often volatile and fast-moving situations. They often perform many acts of bravery and heroism. And that will not change. We cannot foresee every situation, or ensure every officer is trained for everything.

“We are pleased therefore that HSE has recognised this unique aspect of the job and the complex nature of the challenges our officers face. Our officers need the best information, equipment, and training to ensure they make the best possible decisions to protect not just the public, but themselves.”

The September issue of SHP ran a feature on this very subject of how the Police can reconcile compliance with health and safety law and delivery of the service expected of them (click here to read ‘Corridor of uncertainty’). The feature provoked a spirited response from readers, one of whom, Michael Roulston, commented: “Police work is based on dynamic risk assessment, supported by training, staffing, logistics and a generic risk assessment. These are the regular missing elements – collectively known as mismanagement – rather than risk aversion among operational officers, many of whom continue to face life-threatening situations every day.”

Added Steve Rands, health and safety leader for the Metropolitan Police Federation: “Just because it is difficult to apply health and safety legislation in some circumstances is no justification for police officers to work outside of these laws.”

Meanwhile, fears for the health and safety of officers in the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) have led to calls for the return of troops to the streets there. The concerns have arisen as a result of an increase in activity by dissident groups in Northern Ireland, and the removal by the PSNI of personal protection weapons from more than 170 former members of the security forces (Police and Army) this year.

The chair of the Police Federation, Terry Spence, told the Belfast Telegraph: “The threat has greatly increased against our officers, both on and off-duty. The situation is very, very serious and we have made it clear that we need the resources. The full-time reserve must be retained. They are very experienced dealing with this type of activity. If they are going to be phased out, this is going to put more pressure on officers on the front line. It will breach the health, safety and welfare of those officers on the ground, and we would have very serious concerns.”

To read more, click here.


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