Occupational Health & Safety is governed by the Factories Act 1956 and the Factories Inspectorate are the enforcing authority locally.
It is a reality that firefighters and officers sometimes have to work in very dangerous and dynamic operational environments. This includes, at times, exposure to dangerous and unpredictable situations when attempting to save life and mitigate other emergencies. There is undoubtedly a legitimate public expectation that firefighters put themselves at risk to protect others. The GFRS also has a duty to protect property and the environment. Emergency incidents can develop at speed and in unexpected ways, so by its very nature, operational activity in the FRS represents significant challenges for the application of health and safety law.
The injury and ill-health rates for the Fire and Rescue Service are above average and there remains scope for improvement through better management of health and safety as part of good management practice generally.
We expect firefighters and officers to respond in a professional manner to all emergency incidents. We believe that health and safety regulation and subsequent guidance should be mindful of the unique challenges presented by emergency response and therefore proportionate in their application. Training and operational procedures are vitally important but Chief Fire Officer (CFO) does not believe it is possible to risk assess and train for every possible scenario that a firefighter or officer might face. The CFO therefore supports the use of generic risk assessments supported by risk awareness and dynamic assessment along with the safe person concept; right person in the right place, at the right time with appropriate training, equipment and procedures. We recognise that decisions will need to be made in emergency and dynamic situations that with the benefit of a 20/20 hindsight investigation may not bear scrutiny and question.
The UK HSE has gone some way to recognising the complexities of our operational environment within their policy statement ‘Striking the Balance between Operational and Health and Safety Duties in the Fire and Rescue Service’. The CFO welcomes the statement but there is still some further clarity required regarding the expectation placed on employers by the Factories Act balanced against the operational reality of the FRS which needs to be fully recognised and understood.
The GFRS has an operational Chartered Health & Safety advisor who together with senior management is responsible for the creation and implementation of policies as well as the provision of specific information, instruction and training.
Officers within the GFRS have all completed the ‘Level 3’ CIEH Principles and Practice of Risk Assessment as part of the organisations continued commitment to improving the safety culture.