Be brave – and be legal

Published:  11 April, 2011

The UK Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) issues guidance to reassure firefighters and police officers that heroics will not lead to prosecutions. 

Firefighters and police officers are subject to Section 7 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA) which says that it is "the duty of every employee to take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and of other persons who may be affected by his acts or omissions at work."

The CPS has recognised that in performing a heroic act police officers and firefighters may breach the Act in that they failed 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 1974 Act.

Examples of this could be to save or prevent the potential loss of life or to perform their duty to prevent crime or arrest a suspected offender. The extent of that risk will vary but in some situations the individual may decide to act in a way which puts their safety at significant risk in order to perform their duty.

Although it is very unlikely that an officer would be investigated in such circumstances, prosecutors may be asked by investigators to consider whether such a "heroic act" should be subject to prosecution under Section 7 HSWA if a case is referred to them by investigators.

The prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the acts of the individual were such they amount to the person not taking "reasonable care" for the health and safety of himself or others. In the exceptional circumstances under consideration, a police officer or firefighter may act in a way which shows a considerable disregard for their own safety.

However, this will not in itself mean that the individual has not taken reasonable care for their safety, as what is reasonable will depend on all the circumstances including why the individual acted in the way that they did.

Decisions to act in such a way are likely to be taken in fast moving and dynamic situations. In circumstances in which a police officer or firefighter acts in such a heroic way, it is very unlikely that a jury would find that such actions were not "reasonable".

For the full guidance, click here.

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