Health and safety laws are stopping us from saving lives, fire chief says
THE head of Scotland's largest fire brigade has said health and safety law is preventing firefighters from saving lives.
Strathclyde fire chief Brian Sweeney said current health and safety rules were having the "cumulative effect of putting firefighters in a position where they are more fearful of the legislation than they are of risking their lives".
However, his comments were criticised by Scottish Fire Brigades Union secretary John Duffy - who said he strongly disagreed with the notion that health and safety legislation was too strict.
Mr Sweeney's warning follows a fatal accident inquiry into the death of a woman whose rescue was delayed for safety reasons.
Alison Hume, a 44-year-old mother of two, died in July 2008 after falling down a 60ft mineshaft. She was trapped for six hours, and died of a heart attack.
Firefighters on the scene were willing to attempt a rescue, but were told they were not allowed to use their equipment to help members of the public.
In an interview yesterday Mr Sweeney said it was time for an overhaul of existing legislation.
He said: "What you have is the application of 20:20 hindsight.
"That doesn't serve anyone well. It doesn't serve the public well and it doesn't serve to create the environment within which firefighters feel free to do their job and that can't be safe for the whole of the UK."
He added: "They are preventing and compromising our ability to save life."
However, Mr Duffy said: "I find these comments very worrying. We think the legislation if anything needs to be strengthened, not weakened. If you are properly trained and equipped, there is no reason why health and safety legislation should prevent fire officers from doing their jobs.
"The question is why Strathclyde wasn't prepared for an incident of that nature. It has less to do with health and safety and more with equipment and training. Lothian and Borders have got a line rescue team, Fife have a line rescue team. The question needs to be asked why Strathclyde did not have one." Mr Duffy said it was wrong to suggest health and safety legislation led to firefighters being reluctant to take risks. "On a day-to-day basis we go into burning buildings and health and safety does not prevent this. The issue is about proper equipment and proper training."
A spokesman for the Health and Safety Executive said: "HSE recognises that fire and rescue services have, by the very nature of their work, to send firefighters into dangerous situations in order to save lives, when anyone else would be seeking to get away from the danger, and HSE trains its inspectors to have an understanding of the work of the fire and rescue service.
"Over the past few years there have been a number of major injuries to firefighters during operational incidents, some of which have resulted in multiple fatalities to firefighters, and it is only proper that lessons should be leant from such incidents."
He said a 2010 policy statement "makes it clear that proper health and safety does not prevent firefighters from doing their job - nor deny them the protection that is reasonable given their role".
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