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Spitting Mad

Wednesday, 07 September 2016


When eight police officers at the Notting Hill Carnival were taken to hospital for anti-viral treatment after being spat at, and then the Metropolitan Police ‘paused’ its decision to start a three-month trial using spit guards, PFEW’s Interim Board Member Che Donald was spitting tacks…

This week’s news has left a rather foul taste in my mouth, but don’t worry, I won’t be spitting it out or at a police officer.

The issue of spit guards, in my opinion, is quite a simple one.

Police officers deserve the right to be afforded protection in the execution of their duty. We face the risk of being stabbed or shot, therefore we have stab vests. So when it comes to the risk of contracting a potentially lethal disease and an adequate measure to prevent this from happening already exists, why is there so much public outcry?

Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH), employers have a duty to either prevent or reduce their workers’ exposure to substances that are hazardous to their health. That means carrying out risk assessments and putting relevant control measures in place.

Spitting is an assault, full stop.  Again, employers have a duty of care under Health and Safety legislation to have safe systems of work and prevent assaults or harm coming to its officers. Are you with me so far?

So why the reticence in using spit guards, a cheap, portable and highly-effective control measure? The answer, I am afraid, is public perception. The public perceives spit guards somehow as ‘vile, degrading and inhumane.’ I just can’t get my head around this – why is it vile, degrading and inhumane to put someone in a spit guard, however quite acceptable that the police officer gets spat at? Is it just me or have I missed something? This logic is perverse at best.

As I have said before, I would prefer to be punched in the face than be spat at. Yes, both are unacceptable and both, sadly, occur on a daily basis. But after being spat at, police officers have to undergo emergency anti-viral treatment and then face the uncertainty of infection and live with the impact that has on their personal and family life:

Fact – there were 214000 people chronically infected with Hepatitis C in the UK in 2014

Fact – there were 6520 cases of Tuberculosis reported in England in 2014

Fact – both diseases can be transmitted by saliva

Fact – both these diseases can kill people

The reality of policing is that officers are placed in harm’s way, every day, every hour and every minute, out there protecting the public, keeping people safe and ensuring that there is peace in our communities.

So what are we waiting for before adequate measures are taken to provide protection for police officers? A police officer’s death? Well that already happened last year in the Ukraine. Far enough away you might think, but tuberculosis is on the rise in the UK and people living in close proximity in built-up conurbations – such as London – are most at risk.

Spit Guards are deployed either when an offender has already started spitting or there is a clear and identified risk of spitting. They are not placed on people’s heads for the sake of it. That would indeed be vile, degrading and inhumane.

Unfortunately there is currently no cost-effective viable alternative to spit guards, although I have heard it previously suggested by a senior leader that police officers could wear them instead…

So instead of creating faux outrage about the use of spit guards, how about using your voice and influence to educate and prevent the socially-unacceptable practice of spitting in someone’s face – or at least come to the table with a suitable alternative.

As I said, the whole issue of spit guards is in fact very simple. Don’t spit and you won’t need to wear one.

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