Protecting those who protect us?

Police pursuit
Image via Flickr

We should all be able to go to work without fear of being injured through the negligence of others indeed, there is much legislation to cover that expectation, not least the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA). It’s one of the few pieces of (arguably) good legislation that actually does what it says on the tin and protects us all. As employees, we have all come to expect that protection and since 1998, we also look upon it as something of a human right. The problems in applying the Act effectively (as usual) revolve around our blame & claim culture, that and a good measure of legalese.

Despite the act having been in place now for a generation, our police only became subject to the HSWA legislation relatively recently. There have been many calls to amend the act as it relates to the police however, I would suggest that many are born out of financial consideration firstly and secondly, the management fear of legal accountability.

Sorry Gene, you can’t chase criminals in case you hurt yourself: It is unlikely Gene Hunt ever worried too much about the risks to his person in his gung-ho pursuit of justice. But the Ashes to Ashes character operated in a time before health and safety: 21st century officers apparently need to be a little more careful… (

Difficulties around the application of any law, not least Health & Safety legislation isn’t a new phenomenon however. Look back as far as the Chimney Sweepers Regulation Act 1864 which was brought in to strengthen previous legislation on the subject. At that point, it became illegal to shove small boys up your flue to give it a once over! Some would argue that even this is a piece of legislation that may now also be right for repeal? 🙂

Quoting directly from IOSH’s briefing on the impact the amendment could have, former health and safety minister, Lord McKenzie of Luton, warned the repeal of the 1997 Act “would be a seriously retrograde step”. He highlighted recent CPS guidance, which stated that police officers who have breached s7 of the HSWA in performance of a heroic act should not generally be prosecuted. All totally in line with an explanatory note to the HSE’s 2009 guidance, Striking the balance between operational and health and safety duties in the Police Service (see pdf file), which aims to clarify the situation further.

Police health and safety exemption proposal scrapped: The Police service should not be released from the duties laid down in the HSWA 1974, the House of Lords has concluded…(Safety & Health Practitioner)

He concluded: “The law, as it stands, serves both the public and Police effectively. It is certain interpretations of the law that have produced isolated anomalies. Therefore, clarity of interpretation is needed rather than the unnecessary changes to health and safety law that could turn the clock back decades on the protection afforded to society.”

I for one follow the thought process; if legislation is wrong change it, if it’s the application of that legislation that is simply at fault don’t mess with it… I suppose we’ll have to wait and see how things pan out?

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