Application of health and safety law to the Police Service


Striking the balance between operational and health and safety duties in the Police Service clarifies how HSE will apply health and safety law to the operational activities of the Police Service. It will assist senior police officers in balancing risks in their wider duties to fight crime and protect the public, while meeting their health and safety at work obligations.

Supporting guidance is provided by Striking the balance between operational and health and safety duties in the Police Service: An explanatory note.

This gives clear advice on how effective policing can be delivered without compromising health and safety. It also makes clear that police officers will not face investigation or prosecution for putting themselves at risk to protect the public. The guidance includes realistic examples to show how consideration of sensible health and safety in an emergency works in practice.

A brief history

The Police (Health and Safety) Act 1997 established that the Chief Officer of a force is to be treated as the employer of police officers for the purposes of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. This gave police officers the protection of health and safety law while they were at work, as, for HSWA purposes, they are to be treated as employees.

In 2005 Clause 158 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act amended Section 51A of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974; concerning the application of Part 1 of the Act to police. It changed the position of Chief Constables to that of 'employer' and established the 'relevant officer' as a 'corporation sole'.

In essence this means that Chief Constables/Commissioners will not be held personally liable for any breaches of the 1974 Act within their force, except in cases where the breach is proved to be as a result of the individual Chief Officer's:

  • Personal consent to the commission of the offence.
  • Personal conniving in its commission.
  • Personal neglect.

Provided none of these actions are evident, liability will be the responsibility of the 'Office of Chief Constable or Commissioner'.

As 'employees' under HSWA, all police officers have duties under Section 7 (a) and (b) of HSWA, as do civilian police staff.

HSE is the enforcing authority for police forces across Great Britain. This is because in Regulation 3(1) of The Health and Safety (Enforcing Authority) Regulations 1998 it states that:

"Where the main activity carried on in non-domestic premises is specified in Schedule 1, the local authority for the area in which those premises are situated shall be the enforcing authority for them, and the Executive shall be the enforcing authority in any other case including the common parts of domestic premises".

Therefore, as stated, HSE shall be the enforcing authority for 'any other case' not specified in Schedule 1 and as Police forces and policing activities are not specified, it follows that HSE is the enforcing authority.

Regulation 4 of these regulations details some exceptions where even though activities declared in Schedule 1 are taking place, HSE will be the enforcing authority rather than the Local Authority. Buildings occupied by local policing bodies (Police and Crime Commissioners, the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime (in relation to the metropolitan police district) and the Common Council (in relation to the City of London police area)) are included as one of these exceptions, so as an example, although 'offices activities' are included in Schedule 1, Regulation 4 clarifies that if these are taking place in a building occupied by the Local Policing Body, HSE will be the Enforcing Authority.

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Updated 2022-10-25