Fire Safety Training

Myth Busters - The Case of the Seagull

The HSE’s new independent Myth Busters Challenge Panel was set up to investigate complaints from the public if they think a decision or advice given in the name of health and safety is wrong or disproportionate. The complaint is investigated and findings are published within a timeframe on the HSE website.

The panel’s first decision concerned the response of London Fire Brigade (LFB) firefighters, called on 7 April by the RSPCA to reports of a trapped seagull on Carshalton Ponds in Greater London. Apparently, a member of the public had spotted the bird struggling to free itself from a plastic bag.

Five LFB appliances and crews were dispatched but, on arrival, they assessed that it was not an emergency and left the scene shortly afterwards. The bird was later rescued by a volunteer from a nearby animal centre.

As the story hit the headlines, the LFB was quoted as saying that ‘protocols’ prevented its firefighters from entering the pond and that it was not willing to put crew lives at risk for the sake of a seagull.

The Daily Mail, contacted the panel over the incident on 11 April – the day the panel was launched – and complained the following day that it had not received its response. On 13 April, HSE chair Judith Hackitt responded, ‘We have now had chance to examine the facts in this case and it is clear that it was not about health and safety at all. The fire service itself has made clear that their decisions at Carshalton were not based on health and safety factors. We endorse this view.

‘The Myth Buster Challenge Panel has been set up to bring common sense back to decisions made in the name of health and safety, and to do our job properly we need to establish the facts. We will try our best to meet deadlines when we can but not at the expense of working on hearsay rather than facts. We said that we aim to make a response within 48 hours and it has taken us less than 24 hours to respond to this case.’

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‘Not an emergency’

According to an LFB spokesperson: ‘The RSPCA called us out as an emergency. Our firefighters rushed to the scene only to realise they’d been called out to a seagull with a plastic bag round its leg, which was swimming around quite happily and wasn’t in any distress. This clearly wasn’t an emergency, so the firefighters left it to a local animal rescue charity to deal with and swiftly left the scene.

‘Often, by the time our firefighters arrive at an incident, someone has waded in to try and rescue an animal, only to get into danger themselves, so we send enough crews to deal with whatever we may find. The safety of the public and our firefighters is always our priority.

‘Firefighters were not stopped from entering the water due to health and safety protocols. They are trained to make difficult judgement calls about when it is right to risk their lives in order to save another.’

He gave another example of a recent response to an emergency call to rescue the driver of a bulldozer that had fallen 40 feet down into a quarry pit. The crew realised the man’s life was at risk and acted outside of normal procedures, risking their own personal safety to lift him out and save his life.

Source: FPA

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