Category Archives: Health & Safety
The serious (and not so serious) matter of Health & Safety in the workplace.
Apart from the fact the story actually hit the media at the end of March (as far as I can ascertain) and despite the time of release, it’s actually one of ten silly stories that are actually true. Given my time with the Police Federation and my Health & Safety background I simply couldn’t resist commenting on the story (see below).
A police officer is suing a petrol station owner after apparently tripping on a kerb on his property when called to reports of a suspected break-in…(bbc.co.uk)
But despite all the astonishment and mirth generated by the story; should a police officer be allowed (or willing) to make a claim for injuries received whilst at work?
It’s not common, I appreciate that, but the claim has come in and we’ve honoured the officer’s wishes by putting it through to the solicitor…(Paul Ridgway – Chairman, Norfolk Police Federation)
The chief constable of Norfolk Constabulary said he was ”disappointed” that one of his officers is pursuing a claim and obviously, the owner of the petrol station isn’t too happy about the situation either.
Chief moves to reassure public: This type of claim does not represent the approach and attitude of the overwhelming majority of our staff who understand and accept the risks inherent in policing and which they willingly confront to keep the public they serve safe..(Chief Constable Phil Gormley)
With the backlash of adverse public opinion and levels of media interest, it’s hardly surprising the Chief was quick to condemn the actions of his officer. It really doesn’t fit what the public (rightly or wrongly) expect of their police service, does it?
Now, less than 48hrs after the story broke, and was almost instrumental in a social and regular media meltdown, it now transpires the officer intends to withdraw her claim against the garage owner (see here). Speaking to The Mirror, Mr Danny Harle, the officer’s father was quoted as saying…
She’s being treated like a criminal but actually she’s the opposite – a single mum who looks after two daughters as well as working. Kelly wants to drop the claim to prove she is not a money grabber, not because she feels she’s done anything wrong…(Danny Harle)
Irrespective of all the contrived hype and opinionated comment in the media about this story; what about the facts of this incident?
- Since the Police (Health and Safety) Act 1997, all police officers are defined as being ‘employees’ and ‘at work’ while on duty and consequently, they are (rightly) protected, just like all other employees, under current Health & Safety legislation.
- The Police (Health and Safety) Regulations 1999 applies the provisions of all existing health and safety regulations to police officers.
- The officer involved was at work when she was injured. The officer was injured whilst carrying out a task on behalf of her employer. An employee is owed a duty of care by his/her employer.
- The owner of the garage may have a duty of care to anyone entering their premises however; that duty is based around the management of reasonably foreseeable risk and the application of reasonable control measures to prevent any injury being caused i.e sensible (and effective) risk management.
- The injury suffered by the officer has (possibly) caused her financial hardship.
It’s a well-known fact in the world of Health & Safety: slips, trips and falls combined account for ”more than half of all reported major injuries” and “almost a third of over-3-day injuries” to employees at work (source HSE).
The officer couldn’t just write off the accident as an insignificant incident: Due to the circumstances surrounding the officer’s injury, she (and her employer) were (at the time of the accident), legally required to make a report about the accident. This is a provision contained within the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR).
Health & Safety Law: The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 is criminal law aimed at protecting employees and others who may be affected by work activities. Health and safety legislation does not, in general, impose duties upon someone who is not an employer, self-employed or an employee (e.g. the garage owner). It is not possible to sue for damages under the HSW Act itself however; a breach of health and safety regulations may be cited as part of a civil claim for compensation based on a breach of statutory duty.
Duty of Care under Civil Law: Under the common law, all individuals (not just employers) have a duty of care to each other and to others who may be affected by their activities. Where something goes wrong, individuals may, in some cases, sue for damages using the civil law if they are injured as a result of another person’s negligence.
Note: for a negligence claim to succeed, the injured person must show that the defendant had a duty to take reasonable care towards them, and they have suffered the injury through a breach of that duty. The injured person must also show that the type of loss or injury for which damages are being claimed was a foreseeable result of the duty breach.
My personal views and observations:
This incident was an easy bandwagon for the media to climb aboard, especially given the (apparent) April Fools’ opportunity. It was also one which was bound to accelerate at a phenomenal rate, given the propensity for police and/or Elf ‘n’ Safety bashing, so often favoured by our media.
In the majority of articles that I saw (and the subsequent comments); there was hardly any coverage about the legalities involved in the incident. When there was, we were subjected to numerous assumptions of guilt, in relation to both the garage owner and (sadly) on behalf of the officer. Nearly all of that coverage was (a) either intentionally only partly right or simply ill-informed and (b) were presumptions about the (desired) outcomes from a court of law; always assuming that the case actually arrived at court in the first place.
Do I think the officer was right to pursue a claim? No, but I can fully understand her possible difficulties, especially if she had suffered financially because of an injury received at work. But it is always difficult striking a balance between operational and Health & Safety duty.
Do I believe that the garage owner (or her employer) were legally responsible for the officer’s injuries? No, I couldn’t (hopefully) envisage any court of law establishing that either party had breached their statutory duty of care, to an individual or to an employee.
Do I think the garage owner should have better managed the ‘risk’ ? No, as far as I can ascertain, there would have been little if anything he could have done to prevent the officer falling. He might have placed floodlights around all of his garage premises during the night, he could have placed trip hazard warning signs all over the place and he could have painted all of the curbs with black/yellow hazard hatching marks. Would that have been reasonable? Probably not and would certainly have been expensive. Would those actions have fitted within the principles of sensible risk management? Again I would say, probably not.
As one commentator to an article I saw wrote; “why wasn’t she watching where she was going and/or carrying a torch?” Perhaps the only duty of care breached here was the one that the officer owed to herself?
All that being said, when attempting to effectively manage risk one should always remember; preventing accidents usually also requires that you should try to manage human failures. You need to understand the risk management principles; never ignore the inherent human factors involved e.g. possible fatigue, one often experienced by shift workers, as in this case however; the majority of this type of risk management is morstly within the remit of the employer, as opposed to the garage owner.
Fatigue results in slower reactions, reduced ability to process information, memory lapses, absent-mindedness, decreased awareness, lack of attention, underestimation of risk, reduced coordination etc…(Source HSE)
Thankfully some elements of the media machine actually managed a somewhat less damaging and little more satirical viewpoint on the matter…
Were you injured and would like to claim compensation? Get over it! – If you ask me, the story of the policewoman who, called to investigate a suspected burglary, fell over an on-site kerb and is currently suing the owner of the property, certainly adds to the impression we are now a nation drowning in absurd lawsuits brought about by stupid, greedy people with no sense of personal responsibility and, in some instances, a passion for bogus whiplash…(Deborah Ross – The Independent)
Like Ms Ross (and undoubtedly many others), “I am as fearful of all this litigation as anyone” else; the inherent greed in much of our society tends to be the fuel that ignites the misapplication of Health & Safety legislation and guidance. I think her idea about trying to balance it all with a new company called, Stuff Happens So Get Over It, is a great idea and one that has a good chance of rapid expansion… Any chance of a job Deborah?
- She should have carried a torch! Dismay of petrol station owner sued by fall PC (telegraph.co.uk)
- Kerb fall WPC sues 999 caller (thesun.co.uk)
- Policewoman sues man who dialled 999 during ‘burglary’ after tripping over petrol garage kerb (mirror.co.uk)
- Chief disappointed at PC legal claim (bbc.co.uk)
- Report: Police officer drops claim against burglary victim (itv.com)
- British Police (Unfit For) Service! (dickiebo.wordpress.com)
Workplace safety affects us all, doesn’t it? - Well it should do - Despite the bad press that elf ‘n’ safety has received over recent years, most of which is born out of poor grasp of the facts and/or legislation, Health & Safety isn’t actually the ogre that many (particularly this Government) would have us all believe…
With all the unrelenting bad press, as the stupidity of the recent Burnham-on-Sea Jubilee Bunting debacle tends to show, it’s hardly surprising that; Councils and companies are being accused of “using health and safety rules as an excuse to make unpopular decisions banning low-risk activities” (bbc.co.uk).
But in many respects it’s the lack of knowledge and understanding, that and the inherent fear of litigation, that is the root cause of many of these ‘astounding’ decisions. Health & Safety legislation was originally developed to protect workers in high risk and industrial occupations however; workplace safety needs to be considered in every workplace. Matters as diverse as bullying, computer use, work-related stress, and disability are all relevent in the workplaces, not just higher risk industrial locations. And all of them are occupational health issues impacting upon overall safety.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re an employer or an employee, a self-employed trader or a director of a large company, we all have safety responsibilities. You might be a customer in a shop, or a client visiting business premises but many people have little or (worryingly) no understanding of their safety rights and responsibilities.
With all this confusion and poor understanding is it any wonder the media continue to successfully stoke the funeral pyre of our Health & Safety legislation? Protection and guidance that was actually designed and developed to protect and help us all, not hinder us, impede work or put us out of business!
Last year the government proposed the abolition of a large amount of health and safety rules (see here). This followed an earlier report by Lord Young in 2010 (see here) and a subsequent independent review carried out by Prof Ragnar E Lofstedt, director of the Centre for Risk Management at King’s College London.
Lord Young’s report Common Sense, Common Safety calls for a shake-up of health and safety measures to an end “senseless” rules and regulations and tackle Britain’s “compensation culture”…(bbc.co.uk)
But despite all the reported difficulties, much of which is simply myth (see here), Lofstedt actually concluded in his report Reclaiming health and safety for all the problems are; “less with the regulations themselves and more with the way they are interpreted and applied”. He also subsequently pointed out how the PM’s approach to health and safety isn’t helpful.
Don’t let the jobsworths jeopardise jubilee celebrations: …Often health and safety is invoked wrongly to disguise a person’s real motives – an unwillingness to honestly defend an unpopular decision, concern over costs or complexity of running an event, or worries about potential civil liability claims…(hse.gov.uk)
Health & Safety isn’t all bad, even the HSE, often feared and much maligned by many in business, say that the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations “should go ahead without red tape” – they are actively encouraging people to fight back against “health and safety nonsense” (see here).
But where do you look for the facts? It isn’t always easy to find easy to read, high quality information about workplace safety.The internet contains rafts of Health & Safety information but how much of it is up to date and correct? As with any information gleaned from the web, it’s not always a good idea to treat everything you find as the right answer to your question.
Even when you refer to ’experts’ such as the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) or the British Safety Council (BSC), the information you find is often confusing. As with any legislation, the laws and guidance relating to Health & Safety can sometimes be complicated. Because of this, it’s also easy for them to be applied incorrectly (or mischievously) as previously mentioned above.
At the risk of undermining my own worth in this field, I want to point you in the direction of an extremely useful resource. One of the best websites I’ve found of late is SafeWorkers.co.uk. This valuable and worthwhile resource was put in place to serve the needs of the lay person. You can read more than 150 of the articles they’ve produced on specialist workplace safety issues. You can also ask them a question and receive a reply published on the site.
Remember – Workplace Safety is an important consideration for all of us!
Any manager with a ’killer’ work ethic should realise that a happy workforce is a productive one. Having a productive workforce may go some way towards keeping the accountants happy however; the manager who pushes too hard and ignores the health and welfare of his/her employees does so at the peril of their organisation. And hopefully their own career…
I recently highlighted the dangers of driving whilst tired for police officers (amongst others), an issue that probably impacts more upon shift workers than many others. But tiredness is (hopefully) only a relatively minor factor when you consider all the remaining health issues resulting from working shifts and excessive hours.
Many of the negative health impacts that result from shifts and working excessive hours have long been understood, both by the medical ‘experts’ and those who are required to work in this way. In recent years there have been numerous studies and reports to evidence many of the previous suppositions.
In 2005 the BBC reported that; “Employees working split shifts could be harming their health” as a result of research carried out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The results of another study by a team from University College London, carried out over an 11-year period, highlighted the fact; working for more than 11 hours a day markedly increases heart disease risk. It pointed out that the magnitude of risk goes up by 67% for people who work long hours (see here).
This study might make us think twice about the old adage ‘hard work won’t kill you’ (Professor Stephen Holgate - Medical Research Council)
The lead researcher of the latter report, Professor Mika Kivimäki, suggested this should be “a wake-up call for people who overwork themselves, especially if they already have other risk factors” – I would agree however; many of those workers are ‘overworked’ because of the methods employed by their managers and not from any personal choice.
A further study in the European Heart Journal in 2008, focusing on more than 10,000 British civil servants showed that “a stressful job has a direct biological impact on the body, raising the risk of heart disease” (see here). But ‘stress’ is one of those mainly intangible, and mostly misunderstood, negative concepts that can (and do) have a negative impact upon one’s mental and physical well-being.
What is stress? Stress is caused by two things. Primarily it is down to whether you think situations around you are worthy of anxiety. And then it’s down to how your body reacts to your thought processes. This instinctive stress response to unexpected events is known as ‘fight or flight’…(stress.org.uk)
In humans, as in other animals, the adrenalin rush of this fight or flight process helps us to run faster and fight harder, all physical traits useful to those working within our Emergency Services for example. But the life-threatening events are not the only ones that trigger these physiological reactions. We experience them whenever we come across something unexpected or something (or someone) that frustrates our aims, goals, expectations or conditions of perceived normality.
These latter factors are all prevalent in today’s public sector. Services like the NHS and not least our police service, are currently undergoing unprecedented change. The police in particular are also under what appears to be a sustained and constant barrage of (mostly unfair) criticism and attack from the government and our media. As if the job isn’t stressful enough already! But the down side of mobilising our bodies for survival is; the process also presents negative consequences and medical conditions, ones that can have a profound impact upon our ability to work effectively, let alone personal longevity prospects!
The HSE define work-related stress as; a harmful reaction people have to undue pressures and demands place on them at work. Unsurprisingly HSE statistics show that industries reporting the highest rates of work-related stress in the last three years are within the public sector. Stress at work is a major issue for any organisation, not least those involving public service, but it is also one that almost every element of management has specific responsibilities for preventing.
The HSE produce guidelines about the Management Standards expected to mitigate the risk of work related stress. It defines six key areas that managers need to address, if they want to effectively remove/control those risks. If you are a manager, are you aware of your responsibilities?
Well-designed, organised and correctly managed work helps to maintain and promote individual health and well-being i.e. happy workers. But conversely, as with much of the so-called police reform currently taking place, where there has been insufficient attention to organisation and/or task design along with some frightening examples of poor management, the benefits or assets associated with good work conditions are lost. The common result of this being work related stress.
Considering all these health impacts, you would think that much of the political rhetoric about ’doing more with less’ should have fallen on deaf ears by now, unfortunately this isn’t the case. A combination of government enforced austerity measures, along with a predominance of self-interested senior management in the public sector, has prevented it.
The one positive outcome from all this (if you can call it that) is; killer management is likely to mitigate the future financial impacts placed upon our society by an ageing population!
- Do Night Shift Workers Suffer Health Consequences? (mcminnala.com)
- Fears over diabetes risk for irregular sleepers (time4sleep.co.uk)
- Does shift work affect the quality of sleep and weight of our nurses? (time4sleep.co.uk)
- Shift Work May Set Stage for Obesity and Diabetes(webmd.com)