Is it right to assume that if something is against the law or against protocol then it’s wrong?
This is a question I have been forced to ask myself as a result of a recent incident, and subsequent discussion with a colleague.
I shall give a brief overview of the incident which involved a man with a knife threatening a woman. Staff were called to the incident, and their dynamic risk assessment showed that the man was an immediate threat to the woman and to the woman alone. They responded in the only way that they could, and distracted the man for as long as it took to get the knife away. Policy and risk assessment would dictate that this was the wrong thing to do, but sometimes rules are made to be broken if situations demand it; and also if the obeying of these laws and protocols could result in a serious incident or even death.
I hear you ask why the Police were not called – they were, but response time can be slow, and who can guess what would have happened if in this instance they were slow to respond.
The law clearly states that, “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees”. (HSE, 1974) We, as an organisation, and me as a Health and Safety professional have come up with a policy and risk assessment in order to comply with this law when dealing with potentially violent and aggressive incidents. Both state that staff should not approach anyone armed with a flat bladed instrument or a fire-arm. But how can we be so arrogant as to say this without the majority ever having been in a position whereby this may not be morally possible? If it was our Mother, Sister, girl-friend, Wife would be so able to stand back? The simple answer is no we would not. There was no perceived threat to the Staff, and they knew that the situation would be rectified safely. In another instance there may well have been a threat, and if this was the case then the response would have different. Therefore can risk assessment not be considered restrictive? It should depend entirely upon the risk at the time, and not the perceived generic thought that the same threat will always be there in every situation.
How can the staff be condemned for their actions? They saved one life, and prevented the incarceration for life of another. One could say that they were lucky that the knife wasn’t turned on them, or one could also argue that it had nothing to do with luck, and that the threat was concentrated on one person and one person only – the woman – and therefore they were in no danger.
Why should this situation be any different at work? If we were to witness an argument on the streets there would be no formal risk assessment to say that we shouldn’t get involved. We would have to rely entirely on our own perceptions of the risk, and our own individually capability of being able to absolve the threat.
Another discussion with the same colleague presented me with almost the same reactions.
This time the discussion was prompted as a result of a risk assessment carried out. My colleague and I were approaching the assessment from two completely different angles. He from the moral and social angle, and I from the angle that as a health and safety professional I must make a generic assumption that some groups of people are at higher risk of harm than others.
But, is it right to impose blanket restrictions throughout an organisation just because it is the easiest thing to do? Is it right to lump groups of people together without concentrating on the individual? As a Health and Safety professional I would have to say yes at the moment; one because it is easier for me to do that, and two because in my professional capacity I always have to concentrate on the worst case scenario. I must make assumptions based on the situation that I am in. I must assume, for example, that generally staff are all of sound mind. If I weren’t to make these assumptions, and assume that everyone’s perception of risk was the same then the whole risk assessment process would be much harder to control.
But it doesn’t mean that this is right. In my view it is entirely wrong and so the aim of this first article and all future articles is to challenge the general views of Health and Safety Professionals and posit that ethics and morals must be taken into account when implementing any Health and Safety initiatives within an organisation.
Some risk assessments are both morally and socially restrictive, and therefore need to be changed. This will create, then, a need for an entirely different set of requirements for the competent health and safety professional.
Just these two questions have put me in a moral dilemma as a health and safety professional and in an enlightened position as a free-thinker. It has opened up a whole avenue of other questions which to me now need answering.