Could YOU / Would YOU?

Apparently Lord Young who is reviewing Health & Safety law for a government report has told The Times that the emergency services were “paid for doing a job that involves risk” and legislation should not be “an excuse for inaction”.

Emergency workers ‘excluded from health and safety law’ – Police and paramedics should be excluded from health and safety laws which could prevent them taking risks to save lives, the Tory peer reviewing the legislation has said. (BBC News)

Yes, a police officer’s primary role is ‘the protection of life and property’ (to which he/she is sworn in to do) however, like so much else in the police service priorities and duties have been messed around with by a succession of governments and consequently, the original concept of policing has become blurred. It annoys me that in support of his argument to exclude emergency services, Lord Young (and the media) continually quote the unfortunate 2007 case of the boy who drowned in Manchester.

That incident did not involve ‘police officers’ it was in fact Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs). Apart from the fact a PCSO is not a sworn and warranted officer of the crown (who has a ‘legal obligation’ to save life), the PCSOs had not received any training in lifesaving skills and had no equipment or skills to perform a water rescue. Now there are those who would say… “They shouldn’t need a legal obligation to do what is morally right” and to a certain extent I would agree. It has to be understood though that a ‘moral’ decision or action is also a personal choice.

I would ask those with that particular viewpoint; “would you walk by when you saw something wrong or would you get involved and try to help?” Unfortunately, I think we all know the likely answer to that social quandary! In addition, if the PCSOs had tried to help and one or more had died (or been injured), what would be the likely course of action of their families? Ably assisted by an ambulance chasing ‘no win no fee’ solicitor no doubt!

I agree that Health & Safety law often appears to be in direct conflict with the legal/moral obligations of emergency service workers but in reality it isn’t. The problems occur when their managers intentionally or out of ignorance, place those workers in a position of unnecessary (or preventable) danger. In those respects, emergency service personnel should (quite rightly) be afforded the same protection from the law as any other employee.

Health & Safety laws don’t prevent people from doing the job they are paid to do per se and never have. They are designed to ensure that employers take all ‘reasonable’ steps to ensure the ‘health, safety and wellbeing’ of their employees. Unfortunately a large proportion of those employers actually hide behind Health & Safety legislation and, place blanket bans on various activities simply to avoid the expense of doing something correctly and safely. Much of the current situation is actually fuelled by simple economics… Legal and moral considerations are often totally absent.

Another important factor is the public perception of ‘reasonable’. Is it ‘reasonable’ to expect an untrained, unqualified, ill-equipped person to attempt a life threatening course of action? Consider yourself in the situation where your employer tells you to do something you are neither trained nor equipped to deal with… Would you follow the orders? How many well-intentioned potential rescuers have ended up as an additional death over the years, trying to save someone else’s life? They may well have received some posthumous award or other for their ‘public spirited’ actions however, I’m sure many a bereaved relative would sooner still have their loved one, rather than a little tin coin on a piece of silk ribbon!

Far too often public perception of fact is actually tainted by media interpretation of the facts. A methodology that is often employed simply to sell ‘sensational’ stories… In addition, isn’t it strange how the public and media can spend so much time slagging off the police but, how many could/would actually be prepared to do the job?

Ref: The Police (Health and Safety) Act 1997

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