Talking sense or simply a cop out on police safety?

Ambulances at Russell Square, London after the...
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During the 7/7 London bombings inquest (see official website) a myriad of issues have been examined and discussed since it commenced. I’ve followed much of the coverage and would tend to agree with the words of the Rt.Hon. Lady Justice Hallett D.B.E. presiding; they don’t appear to have “left any reasonable stone unturned.”

Having said that, and for reasons of politics, possible litigious challenge or simply ones of ongoing personal grief, the comments about the outcome will continue for some time yet. This is especially true whilst the media add their varying spin on the issues concerned, dissecting every aspect in minute detail, simply to enhance circulation and readership figures.

BBC in-depth reports: Almost a quarter of a century after the King’s Cross underground fire, the coroner notes that there are still failings in how the emergency services and Transport For London talk to each other and plan for major incidents… (Read more)

The aspects of the process that interested me were firstly; how did the emergency services actually perform on the day? And secondly but more importantly, what comments were there about operational process and procedures as they relate to the work of the Emergency Services? My specific area of interest being the impact upon policing and Health & Safety.

Yes, there will always be those less diligent individuals who try to hide behind H&S legislation and guidance. There are also those who fear the outcomes of applying it incorrectly, or simply misunderstand their personal role or responsibility. Realistically, much of this fear is compounded and born out of the compensation culture of our litigious society, often fuelled by ambulance chasing lawyers seeking to make financial profit or gain personal acclaim for their business.

These factors have been known for some time now, and in many ways, were instrumental in the commissioning of the recent Lord Young report into Health & Safety reform. However, I suspect the ensuing government drive to water down Health & Safety legislation, has had a lot more to do with monetary factors than overtly zealous application of the legislation.

Sir Paul Stephenson, head of the Metropolitan Police (in a Daily Telegraph interview) has questioned whether safety legislation is appropriate for the emergency services. He said; “Police officers should be able to do their jobs without having to think about health and safety”…

“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. Some get injured. They take risks … I don’t want to criticise them or to be doing a risk assessment on every occasion… The last thing we should ever do is make the families of people who have a go, be they cops or public, feel they made the wrong choices. Let’s not pretend that the police work in a risk-free environment.” (Sir Paul Stephenson)

Taken at face value the comments and observations he makes are both informed and sensible. It does however appear those against health & safety laws are seeking to suggest he is saying; the police (and other emergency services) should be exempt from that legislation. I find it hard to believe that was his intention, if it was I would have to disagree with him. The implication of the latter would also imply; (a) he has little regard for his staff or, (b) seeks to remove the accountability he and his managers must be subjected to, or (c) both of these. If that is the case, I would find it extremely worrying that once again, a police chief is displaying traits of self-interest, as opposed to an interest in the welfare of individuals under his command, and the operation of the service as a whole.

There has been a great deal of concern and a lot of misunderstanding since the police service became subject to Health & Safety legislation about how police services can comply with health and safety legislation in their operational work. Given the often testing and difficult circumstances in which the police are called to act, it should really be about ‘striking the balance between operational and health and safety duties in the Police Service’ (see HSE guidance pdf).

Despite my background as a workplace Safety Representative for the Police Federation of England & Wales (PFEW), I’m not and never have been an ‘elf & safety zealot. As a police officer my overriding aim and purpose (like the majority) was always the protection of life and property…

“It is certain interpretations of the law that have produced isolated anomalies. Therefore clarity of interpretation is needed rather than unnecessary changes to health and safety laws that could turn the clock back decades on the protections afforded to society.” (Paul McKeever, Chairman PFEW)

Shouldn’t a police officer have the right to expect to be able to carry out their work as safely as possible? Is there a good reason why all emergency service personnel shouldn’t enjoy the same protection from incompetent managers as other workers?

3 thoughts on “Talking sense or simply a cop out on police safety?

  1. UK police officers are already substantially overpaid. I wouldn’t say that if I was still a Federation rep, but it is now true. I would resist making police a special case on H & S. Indeed, big changes are needed to make police officers’ work less stressful and less dangerous – though it’s not a dangerous job compared to many others.

    The actual jobs vary greatly as we know, varying from sharp-end realities to utter admin. Bungling and jobsworthness are the problems in standing by when action is needed. Many of the ‘Spanish practices’ could have been sorted long ago. No one is made responsible for allowing them to increase.


  2. Commenting on the ‘watering down’ of H&S legislation in policing earlier in the week, Mark Botham, North Yorkshire Police Federation chairman said…

    “We would also ask where the public consultation has been on this as it would appear to prevent members of the public making a claim if injured by a police force. We now start to see the reality of assurances that cuts in police numbers (on top of the reduction in numbers we have seen since 2007) will not compromise officer safety as those making the cuts will be exempt from any comeback if and when officers are hurt as a result of the cuts. That is not acceptable but if police officers are to be treated as a special case in relation to health & safety and denied rights afforded to all other workers then why are they not deemed a special case in relation to their pay & pensions. The government cannot have it both ways.”


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