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RR346 - Public protection consultation study

This pilot study gauged views on public protection in advance of a wider consultation. Six focus groups used examples of health and safety related incidents to explore whether there should be an investigation, its purpose and the expertise investigators need.

‘Health and safety’ was perceived as a workplace issue with HSE’s role that of overseer and inspector, setting rules and standards. Prompted, participants acknowledged wider relevance for health and safety although they realised that there are risks in all activities.

The main purpose of an investigation was to prevent the incident recurring. Outcomes do not necessarily have to be punitive; rather, bodies should accept responsibility, apologise and take preventative action. Vulnerable groups were said to need extra protection. Compensation payments were disliked, although for severe injuries, payments might cover care costs.

Participants conflated the decision-making process on whether to investigate with the reason for the incident. Incidents should be judged on: frequency; severity; scale; preventability; potential for harm; injured party’s level of control; degree of personal responsibility circumstances imply; and the understanding society has of the hazard’s impact. For the public, personal experience also played a role. Prioritising was to be thought very hard because individuals have different priorities.

Investigators must have relevant expertise and be independent. The first step should be an internal investigation with the results communicated to the ‘injured’ party. If this investigation was unsatisfactory, participants would look to outside bodies but participants were unclear which. Other professionals in the relevant field, a solicitor, the police or the media, were suggested.

Further research with a broader sample could explore: the opportunity cost of investigations; compensation; employees whose jobs put them in harms way; and personal risk taking. Quantitative research would more effectively gauge the public mood and subgroup differences.

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Updated 2010-03-19