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!
Today I’ve decided to move away from my usual offerings of opinion and social observation. In this post I’m actually going to talk about Health & Safety for a change; an issue that forms part of the work I’m actually in business to do…
I can hear the cry already – “Oh no, not Elf-n-Safety” but before I continue - “Don’t panic, keep calm and carry on” – Health & Safety is NOT the onerous task that our media would have us believe (see here). Neither is it a ’Monster’ as suggested recently in a speech - Reducing the burden and impact of health and safety - made by our Prime Minister David Cameron (see video).
Much of this ‘fear’ has come from misinterpretation and/or poor application of health & safety guidance over recent years which in turn, has led to a large quantity of Health & Safety Myths. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) continue to put the record straight but that’s another story for another time.
Health and safety and successful business or organisation performance are complementary. Good leaders look after their businesses/organisations, and manage skilled workforces who have confidence in them…(hse.gov.uk)
Now on to the main subject of this post. Last week my wife started a new job as a support worker with a local housing association. The work involves visiting various domestic properties, along with some assisted living complexes throughout the area. Eventually after training, many of these visits will be made alone and a fair proportion of them will also be made during the night.
It is estimated that 6.8 million people are lone workers, that is 22% of the 31.2m UK working population. They spend periods of their day outside of direct contact or supervision of their colleagues and management…(Peoplesafe)
There haven’t been any problems with my wife’s work so far and hopefully, there won’t be any in the future however; the ‘risk’ potential is there and it’s this which served to galvanise my thoughts about Lone Worker safety.
Most large organisations usually have a good grasp of Health & Safety and the management of risk however; as with many organisations today, especially in the current economic climate, there is a danger of making management decisions based mainly upon financial considerations. So far, I have to say, I have no reason to believe that my wife’s new employer doesn’t understand the legal/financial implications of non compliance with Health & Safety legislation.
As with the majority of occupational safety legislation in the UK, there are legal implications both for the employee (my wife) and for her employer (the housing association), who owe her (and her colleagues) a statutory duty of care by virtue of The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974.
It is an employer’s duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and other people who might be affected by their business. Employers must do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this…(hse.gov.uk)
And that means all employees, be they on or off the employer’s premises whilst working. Let me start by debunking the common misconception, mostly held by workers as opposed to their employers; it is not illegal for a person be left alone at their place of work, there are no absolute restrictions on working alone per se. The legal implications relate to an employers responsiblity for Health & Safety management and more importantly, how that employer actually identifies the hazards and manages the risks faced by their workers.
To do this correctly and effectively they need to think about what, in their business, might cause harm to people and decide whether they are doing enough to prevent that harm. This is known as a risk assessment. Once the ’risks’ have been identified, they need to decide how to control them and put the appropriate measures in place to mitigate those risks. (See HSE: Health & Safety Made Simple)
The importance of risk assessments and manual handling training have been highlighted by a £90,000 payout to a care worker who was injured when a client fell on her…(hrzone.co.uk)
All lone workers are under the responsibility of their employers during working hours, and the environment in which they work must be as safe as it can be. Employers have to accept responsibility for lone worker safety whether they are in the office, on the shop floor, in a vehicle, in the street or when they knock on someones door to make a home visit.
As already outlined, there is no general legal prohibition on working alone, but the broad duties of the relevant Health & Safety legislation still apply. These require identifying hazards of the work, assessing the risks involved, and putting measures in place to avoid or control the risks.
Control measures may include instruction, training, supervision, protective equipment etc. Employers should take steps to check that control measures are used and review the risk assessment from time to time to ensure it is still adequate.
When risk assessment shows that it is not possible for the work to be done safely by a lone worker, arrangements for providing help or back-up should be put in place. Where a lone worker is working at another employer’s workplace, that employer should inform the lone worker’s employer of any risks and the control measures that should be taken. This helps the lone worker’s employer to assess the risks.
Lone workers should not be at more risk than other employees. This may require extra risk-control measures. Precautions should take account of normal work and foreseeable emergencies, e.g. fire, equipment failure, illness and accidents. Employers should identify situations where people work alone and ask questions such as:
- Does the workplace present a special risk to the lone worker?
- Is there a safe way in and a way out for one person? Can any temporary access equipment which is necessary, such as portable ladders or trestles, be safely handled by one person?
- Can all the plant, substances and goods involved in the work be safely handled by one person?
- Is there a risk of violence? (See HSE statistics also)
- Are women especially at risk if they work alone?
- Are young workers especially at risk if they work alone?
- Is the person medically fit and suitable to work alone?
- What happens if the person becomes ill, has an accident or there is an emergency?
Getting back to my wife’s new job, which was the catalyst for this post; social support, like community nursing and social work, is a type of work which presents the possibility of violence. There are also others which perhaps we wouldn’t necessarily expect.
In 1986 Suzy Lamplugh, a 25-year-old estate agent disappeared after she went to meet an unknown client.. Personal safety training is one of the most effective ways of reducing the risk of violent and aggressive incidents occurring in the workplace…(Suzy Lamplugh Trust)
Although a large proportion of those being supported by the housing association my wife works for are elderly and/or infirm, there are also others who have mental health issues. They may well be physically able-bodied but still require support, to live as independently as possible within the community.
HSE Work-Related Violence (Lone Workers): Occupational group is the factor which is most strongly associated with the risk of assaults at work (Budd, 1999). However, exposure to violence at work not only depends on a person’s occupation but also upon the circumstances and situations under which a person performs their job. Working alone, for example, increases the vulnerability of workers (Chappell & Di Martino, 2000.)
The HSE case studies relating to work-related violence went on to say; “Lone work does not automatically imply a higher risk of violence, but it is generally understood that working alone does increase the vulnerability of workers.” Obviously any increased vulnerability will also depend on the type of situation in which the lone work is being carried out. (See also the HSE Work-Related Violence – Lone workers case study summary of key points.
The number of violent incidents at work shows a downward trend over the last decade, with incidents remaining fairly constant over the last five years…(hse.gov.uk)
These HSE case studies on work-related violence for lone workers concluded that; “whatever the size, location or nature of the organisation, there are many simple, practical and cost-effective measures which employers can use to help prevent and manage the risk of violence to lone workers. In particular, they show that effective measures do not have to be expensive. The most effective solutions usually arise from the way the business is run, such as staff training, job design and changes to the physical environment. High technology and high cost security equipment will normally only be needed where there is a particularly high risk of violence” (see here).
- HSE: Working Alone (indg73) – Guidance Leaflet (pdf)
- Personal Safety Training – Suzy Lamplugh Trust
- Lone Worker (technological solutions) Directoy – Suzy Lamplugh Trust
- Personal Safety in the workplace – Suzy Lamplugh Trust
- Handy Guide to Home Visits: Staying Safe – Suzy Lamlugh Trust