Glasgow & West Scotland

Fire chief says health and safety law 'prevents rescue'

The head of Scotland's largest fire brigade has claimed health and safety law is preventing firefighters from saving lives.

Strathclyde's fire chief Brian Sweeney also said it was time for a change in the law to protect his staff from prosecution when rescues went wrong.

His comments follow a fatal accident inquiry into the death of a woman whose rescue was delayed for safety reasons.

Alison Hume died after being trapped in a mine shaft for six hours.

The 44-year-old from Ayrshire suffered a heart attack on her rescue from the shaft in July 2008.

A fatal accident inquiry into the case has heard Ms Hume's rescue was delayed as firefighters who volunteered to be lowered down to her were overruled by senior officers for health and safety reasons.

However, in Warwickshire three fire service managers face charges of manslaughter by gross negligence over the deaths of four firefighters.

They were killed after responding to a fire at a warehouse in Atherstone-on-Stour in November 2007.

Brian Sweeney told the BBC that there was a creeping culture of risk aversion and fear in the fire service.

He warned that fire crews would not be prepared to enter burning buildings to save property in future unless health and safety law was re-written.

'Dangerous situations'

The fire chief 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".

He said that life and death decisions were often made in the first two or three minutes of a fire crew's arrival at an incident.

Mr Sweeney said: "What you have is the application of 20:20 hindsight to a decision that was made on a 50-50 basis.

"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."

Image caption Ms Hume fell down the mine shaft in July 2008

He added: "They are preventing and compromising our ability to save life."

A spokesman for the Health and Safety Executive said a policy statement, published in March 2010, had been fully endorsed by the Chief Fire Officers' Association, the Fire Brigade's Union and the government's chief fire and rescue advisor.

He added: "It makes clear to all fire and rescue services that proper health and safety does not prevent firefighters from doing their job - nor deny them the protection which is reasonable given their role.

"HSE recognise 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 to reduce the likelihood or recurrence."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites