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West Midlands Police Federation

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Fed health and safety lead working with Force over social distancing concerns

13 May 2020

The Federation’s health and safety lead is now working with his Force counterpart visiting stations where social distancing is proving to be a worrying issue.

Deano Walker has become involved in the checks at the request of the Force Gold Group which is starting to plan for when restrictions are lifted.

“My first meeting with the Force around coronavirus was on 26 February when there were only a few people around the table but now we are having Skype meetings involving more than 50 people,” he explains.

“Initially, the Force hadn’t got the personal protective equipment (PPE) required but it soon stepped up and got the items officers needed. As the crisis has evolved, issues have arisen and I have dealt with them accordingly.

“Where safety has been an issue at stations I have been able to visit them to address concerns. This was particularly important when the Force designated the Wolverhampton custody block as the COVID-19 block. All staff at the stations had concerns – not just those working at the block – and these were addressed with the Force which put procedures in place to ensure everyone’s safety.”

With the Prime Minister announcing an easing of lockdown, Deano added: “Even more now, with the Government attempting to get people back to work, the Federation wants to ensure that the Force is ready, that working environments are safe with the recommended 2m social distancing rule which is, and will be, in place for some time to come.

“If members have concerns then they should at first raise it with their supervision. If this fails then they should send their concerns through to the Federation, possibly with photographic evidence and it will be looked at.”

Deano has been the full-time health and safety lead for the Federation since the start of this year and was initially only set to be in post for three months. But with the onset of the pandemic, the ACC extended his posting for a further three months.

Before the coronavirus crisis, he was in the process of forming the new Federation health and safety committee which is now in place with a small but very strong and committed group of reps already making a big difference across the Force and individual departments.

Deano says: “I have also able to complete H & S policies for the Federation which were either out of date or did not exist. Looking ahead, I have been, and will continue to be, involved with the planning of the 2022 Commonwealth Games. This is where we are consulted on such things as security and welfare not just of our members locally but those who will attend on mutual aid.

“Beyond this, I have also been involved in various risk assessments such as cannabis disposal, the officers’ roles and ensuring they have the correct training and PPE while also working with another Fed rep to establish issues of officers not being given toilet breaks when on crime scenes.

“Some of this work has now been put on hold because of COVID-19 but I hope to pick it up again soon.”

Deano first became a Fed rep in 2013 and says he has almost fallen into the H & S lead role but admits that it’s one in which he can really make a difference.

He explains: “I was happy as a local rep but was convinced to join the health and safety committee by the then secretary. I sat back doing what I could but then due to retirements I was asked to be deputy secretary but, within weeks of that more reps left and I fell as the secretary and the only person on the committee.

“I wasn’t attracted to health and safety in any way but I soon realised what a difference you can make.

“The biggest challenge is getting the Force to listen and make changes,” he continues. “Unfortunately, in health and safety you can point out an issue to your employer but it’s just your professional opinion, if they choose to do nothing then the challenge it is just recorded. The challenge only carries some legality if it all goes wrong which is not what we want to happen, we want the Force to listen in the first instance.

“What concerns me is that this may come at a cost to an officer being seriously injured or even worse. Evidence is key to all we do on the committee and without it we are unable to challenge the Force. We know officers are out there not getting refs, we know there are officers out there not getting toilet breaks when sat on crime scenes for hours - and more - but we need the near misses which is evidence. We cannot go to the Force and say ‘this is an issue, you’re breaking health and safety law’ because they just throw it back and say ‘where’s your evidence?’”

He said he will keep challenging the Force and point out to officers what they are legally entitled to under health and safety legislation.

Since taking on the health and safety role, Deano has completed the national health and safety course provided by the Federation and is in the process of completing an NVQ 5.

Deano’s reasons for running for a Fed rep back in 2013 were simple.

“I just wanted to do what a rep claims they will, I always said I would make no promises and tell no lies. As a Fed rep you have to be upfront with the members or you just get their hopes up only to dash them,” he says, “Sometimes you can put a smile on someone’s face and they walk away satisfied that you helped them. That gives me satisfaction.”

Looking ahead, Deano said he sees the biggest challenge for the Federation being ensuring members are treated fairly at all times.

He adds: “It can sometimes be difficult to manage officer expectations too and we also have to be mindful of the need to balance the individual’s needs with the Force’s operational priorities.

“But we are here to represent members, negotiate on their behalf and influence decision-makers with a firm focus on ensuring fair treatment for officers. The austerity years have taken their toll on members, who have been put under huge pressure, but there has also been an impact on the Force’s buildings and equipment so, with my health and safety hat on, I would say the Federation has to flag up areas where offices and buildings are in need of maintenance and repair so that they are safe and fit for purpose.”

And talking about the biggest challenge for officers, he continues: “Given the loss of officers during the funding cuts, I think officers are going to continue to feel the mental and physical strain of trying to do more with less. We have seen increased numbers of officers off sick with stress and mental health issues and, while we are seeing more wellbeing initiatives introduced, I still think officers are going to be under huge pressure.”

And finally, commenting on the challenges for the Force as a whole, he says: “While we all welcome the Government’s three-year programme to recruit 20,000 officers nationwide, with more than 350 coming to the West Midlands in the first year of that initiative, I think it is going to be challenging for the Force to firstly ensure it recruits the right people despite the pressures of the timescales involved.

“Then, of course, it has to get these new officers trained and equipped. It is not going to be without its difficulties. While this new influx of officers will make a difference over time, the Force still has to fight increased demand and rising crime, particularly violent offences, with its current establishment of officers.

“We also need to remember that the Force has lost more than 2,000 officers since austerity began around 10 years ago so it simply does not have enough officers to go around.”

Diary

July 2020
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