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Striking the balance between operational and health and safety duties in the police service

Judith Hackitt CBE, HSE Chair, 7 October 2009

Introduction

Thank you for taking time in your schedule today for this important event. I am glad to be launching this statement today alongside Sir Hugh Orde and Peter Fahy, (in his capacity as leader of the ACPO Workforce Development Group).

This Statement has been very much a joint effort between the HSE, ACPO, ACPOS and various other organisations involved in the policing of Great Britain – many of which are represented here today.

I'm sure most of you are aware of the context in which this statement arose so I don't intend to go over old ground. However, media reports which suggest that health and safety stops the police from doing their job continue to cause concern. Let there be no misunderstanding – a proper approach to health and safety does not stop the police doing their job, and we will continue to work closely with ACPO, ACPOS and other stakeholders to ensure that the reality reflects the principles contained in the Statement we are launching here today.

I'd like to say how grateful I am to those who helped to bring us to this point. A number of people gave up substantial amounts of their time and without this generosity we would not have a document in front of us today which is such a significant step forward.

Broad context re. Police's front line job

In many ways, it's easy to see how health and safety applies to the Police Service, for example to:

The first duty of the police is to fight crime and protect the public. However, in doing so, it is reasonable to expect that the demands made of officers reflect the realities and difficulties of policing:

So it isn't surprising that this has led to uncertainty within the Police about what the health and safety at work regulations mean in relation to fulfilling their broader duties and doing their job.

Background to the Statement

There has been concern about the application of the law to the Police – some senior police have expressed concerns that their officers might be prevented from doing what they signed up to do because of concerns about health and safety and subsequent prosecution. It's also no secret to anyone in this room that there have been a small number of prosecutions brought against the Police and they inevitably attract much interest and commentary.

It's not surprising therefore, that there have been some calls for the 'dis-application' of parts of the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) from the police service.

Let me be quite clear: the police should not be exempted from 1974 Act

Police officers need protection just like everyone else at work - Forces across Great Britain need to protect their staff, and control risks to the public – as far as is reasonably practicable while performing their unique, indispensible role.

The phrase – as far as is reasonably practicable – is at the heart of the Health and Safety at Work Act. Operational policy should reflect this flexibility. It is unreasonable to expect that all risk can be removed from policing – be it from officers, PCSOs or members of the public. What we will help to ensure is that people are not put at unreasonable risk.

What is reasonably practicable depends on the individual circumstances.

Clearly, some actions the police take to apprehend dangerous criminals might put individual officers or members of the public at a degree of risk. But in these cases that risk is justified if the benefit – the good to society, is greater than the risk being taken.

Not all risks can be foreseen and judgements will need to be made in fast moving situations. It's not helpful for others to revisit the decisions made during operations with the benefit of hindsight, using information that could not have been known at the time. Police forces need to have appropriate policies and procedures and to prepare individual officers and staff to make operational decisions, with often limited, information available and in dangerous, unpredictable and emotionally-charged situations.

Statement – collaboration

This Statement has been developed over the last two years and in liaison senior police officers and other key stakeholders including those representing officers on the streets. It was agreed that fundamental principles needed to be summarised in a public statement which is why I'm standing next to Sir Hugh and Chief Constable Fahy in front of you today.

This reflects a common understanding of how health and safety should apply to police services and we call on all of the various organisations represented here today to endorse this approach.

Review ACPO guidance

This statement alone will not be enough. It is a good, concise document setting out shared principles. But it needs to be underpinned by practical guidance if it's to be of use to the Police and HSE inspectors. Work has already begun to ensure that the principles of this statement become a reality.

Summary

This is a milestone in the development of the relationship between the police and HSE. It reflects our commitment to helping the Police Service deal with risk in a common sense, responsible and proportionate way.

I am confident our united stance will reassure the public that health and safety legislation certain does not prevent the police from delivering an effective, indeed world-class, police service.

Thank you and I now hand you over to Sir Hugh.

Updated 2009-08-10