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Police & Fire Fighters allowed to take 'reasonable risks' to save lives

Under new guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) police officers and firefighters will not be prosecuted for breaking health and safety laws by putting their lives in danger.

There have been a number of stories in the news recently about the emergency services being prevented from rescuing people because of health and safety.

In March, a 41 year old man was left to die face down in the shallow water of a boating lake because rescue workers were worried about their own health and safety.

Crews from two fire engines, two police cars and two ambulances were not allowed to enter the water because they didn’t have specialist training in water rescue. The “specialist” finally arrived around half-an-hour later to remove the body. Unfortunately, it was too late to save him.

In April, a 33 year old woman was left with severe brain damage after having to wait almost two hours for paramedics who ironically were parked just yards away. The ambulance crew had to wait for a police escort before attending because the address had been highlighted as a “high risk” area.

Under guidelines, all paramedics must wait at a “safe rendezvous point” for a police escort before entering potentially threatening areas. This was also an issue in the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings in London and the massacre caused by Cumbria gunman Derek Bird.

And more recently, more than 20 firefighters were sent to rescue on cat that was trapped on a roof in Suffolk because the majority did not have the specialist training in working at height.

These instances have occurred because the emergency services have not been expected to put themselves at unreasonable risk, both in regards to their own safety and welfare, and for fear of being prosecuted if an act of heroism goes wrong. It seems a threat of prosecution has created a risk averse atmosphere in society.

Lord Young, in his Common Sense, Common Safety report, stated: “Police officers and firefighters should not be at risk of investigation or prosecution under health and safety legislation when engaged in the course of their duties if they have put themselves at risk as a result of committing a heroic act.” He suggested that further guidance be drawn up by regulators to put this to put this into effect.

This recommendation is jointly owned by the Home Office, Department for Communities and Local Goverment, and HSE, who are working with the CPS and others to develop the revised guidance.

In its guidance, the CPS says it “recognises that, in performing a heroic act, police officers and firefighters may breach section 7 of the Health and Safety Work Act 1974 in that they fail to take reasonable care of their own safety. In those circumstances, and where the safety of others is not put at risk, public interest would not be served by taking forward a prosecution under section 7 of the Act”.

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