Police - Frequently asked questions

These FAQs help illustrate the nature of some of the issues that HSE routinely gives advice on. The list is not exhaustive and further questions and answers may be added at a later date.

Does health and safety legislation apply to the Police?

Although the European Framework Directive (89/391/EEC) was intended to apply to police officers, they were not originally included within the scope of UK health and safety law because they were 'office holders' and not employees.

The Police (Health and Safety) Act 1997 was introduced to correct this anomalous position and make police officers employees of their chief officer for the purposes of health and safety legislation. The qualification of 'so far as is reasonably practicable' (sfairp) in HSWA allows the special risks of policing to be taken into account when deciding what health and safety measures should be taken.

Civilian members of police staff have always been protected by health and safety law in the same way as employees of other organisations.

Can the Police Service be exempted from health and safety legislation?

HSE expects the police to comply with the law. Health and safety regulations may provide for exemptions from any requirement or prohibition imposed by or under any of the relevant statutory provisions under the requirements set out in Section 15 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

In some circumstances where it might not be possible to comply, HSE has the power to grant exemptions from the requirements of Regulations. HSE will only grant an exemption if satisfied that health and safety standards will not put the people likely to be affected, at any risk. An exemption may be subject to certain conditions and can be revoked by HSE at any time.

Can the Police Service carry out their duties effectively and comply with health and safety requirements at the same time?

The Health and Safety Executive has worked closely with the Police Service and published a set of high level principles which strike the balance between operational and health and safety duties. It reflects a common understanding of how health and safety law should apply to policing; sets out shared principles which take into account the particular challenges for police; and sets out what HSE expects from the Police Service in terms of sound health and safety management systems and what the Police Service can expect of HSE in terms of applying health and safety legislation. HSE continues to work with police stakeholders to ensure that the operational reality reflects the principles in the statement. The statement is supported by practical guidance:

  • Striking the balance between operational and health and safety duties in the Police Service
  • Striking the balance between operational and health and safety duties in the Police Service: An explanatory note

Can Police Officers be prosecuted under health and safety legislation if they risk their lives to save others?

Police officers have a legal duty under section 7 HSWA to take care of themselves and not to endanger others.

Police officers should not be expected to put themselves at unreasonable risk, even in the face of sometimes unrealistic public expectations. However, HSE recognises the reality that individual police officers may decide to act in a way which puts their safety at significant risk in order to perform their duty. Examples of this could be to save or prevent the potential loss of life or to perform their duty to prevent crime or arrest a suspected offender. The police and HSE agree that heroic acts should not be hampered by health and safety law and it is very unlikely that a police officer would be investigated in such circumstances.

In the event of a serious incident, HSE inspectors may need to make initial enquiries about the nature of the incident and they may need to conduct an investigation of the Police Force's operational arrangements and management of health and safety. If, during this investigation, it becomes clear that the incident involved an act of heroism by an individual police officer then HSE will not investigate the actions of the individual in order to take any action against them.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has also issued guidance on Heroic Acts by Police Officers and Firefighters to its prosecutors and case workers on this.

Who is the employer in the Police Service?

Every sworn police officer is a constable irrespective of rank. Sworn officers hold 'the office of constable' and are servants of the Crown, they are not employees.

For health and safety law purposes, sworn police officers are considered employees of the 'Office of Chief Constable'. It is the duty of this 'office' to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of sworn police officers.

All other staff may be employed either by the Office of Chief Constable or the Office of Police and Crime Commissioner as both of these are legal entities under the terms of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility (PRSR) Act 2011.

It is the duty of these 'Offices' to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees under section 2 HSWA and to discharge the duty under section 3 HSWA in respect of others (including the public) who may be affected by the work activities of the force.

How should a Police Service set staffing levels for uniform officers?

Staffing levels are not just a matter of numbers but also about ensuring that staff have suitable knowledge, skill and experience to operate safely - having the right people in the right place at the right time. Determining the numbers of police officers required for specific operational policing activities is an operational decision for each individual force. Each force is legally required to conduct a suitable and sufficient risk assessment for operational activities bearing a significant risk. This should include consideration of the number of officers necessary to ensure the health and safety of those involved, taking into account the nature of the activity, time and location. If there is a significant change in circumstances then the assessment must be reviewed and suitable arrangements put in place to manage the risk which may include altering the minimum number of officers required.

When should body armour be worn?

The first stage in considering whether body armour should be provided is a risk assessment, conducted in accordance with the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. This requires every employer, in this case Chief Officers, to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to health and safety that his employees are exposed to at work. For police officers and operational police staff, such an assessment would need to include the risk of violence.

Where a risk cannot be adequately controlled by other means, then suitable Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) can, as a last resort, be provided. This requirement is found within Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992. The decision to issue body armour must be based on a risk assessment. If the outcome of the assessment is that body armour should be worn at all times then the force must ensure that is complied with. If the assessment indicates that it is only needed in certain circumstances then it must ensure that the distinction between times and circumstances are clearly understood and applied.

Safety of protesters during demonstrations ('Kettling')

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has published a report Adapting to Protest' which is available on their website. The report contains a number of recommendations which relate directly to the welfare and safety of protesters. Other recommendations relating to training and guidance are also relevant. HSE has a role in connection with the safety of members of the public arising from policing activities but there are no duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act which relate to their welfare.

Seatbelts in Police Vehicles for persons in custody

There is legislation on the fitting and wearing of seatbelts which is enforced by the Department for Transport. The legal requirement to wear a seatbelt does not apply where a vehicle is being used for police purposes or for carrying a person in lawful custody. The Association of Chief Police Officers has issued Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) codes of practice to police forces on this issue.

Airwave Radio system - limited/loss of coverage

Every police force should ensure that it has mapped out where the Airwave radio system has limited or no coverage and that where these 'holes' occur arrangements are put in place to mitigate the risks. Organised operations or known patrols in areas with limited or no coverage must also plan to reduce any possible risks.

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Updated 2021-04-30