Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service (SA 01)

Response to Consultation on Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill

1. Summary: This document is the response of Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service (the Service) to the consultation on the proposed Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill (the Bill). The Service supports the Bill; this response sets out the views of the Service and gives examples of how it might be affected by the Bill.

2. The Service is responsible to the Cheshire Fire Authority for provision of fire and rescue services to the four Unitary Authorities that make up Cheshire.

3. The Service employs approximately 872 staff 677 of whom are operational firefighters employed on Whole time (24/7 shift system), Day crewed (9 – 5, five days/week) or On Call contracts; in addition we also have a number of volunteers who support aspects of our work in the community.

4. The Service is served with on average between eight and ten civil claims for personal injury each year. These fall either to our Employers Liability, Public Liability or Motor insurances; some of these we consider unjustified. We encourage our insurer to contest these unjustified claims. However with low value claims the insurer faces a financial dilemma of fighting the claim and winning but not being able to recover their costs when their costs outweigh the value of the claim; from the insurer’s point of view it is sometimes better to settle on economic grounds even if the claim could be successfully defended.

5. We believe that the Bill may deter some of these unjustified claims.

6. The Service recognises the concerns that have been expressed by some groups with regard to the perceived loss of protection for employees and others should the Bill be introduced. We see the Bill affecting two separate areas, claims as a result of work activities and claims arising out of voluntary or volunteer activities.

7. With respect to work related claims the Service believes that the existing framework of legislation provides sufficient protection for both employees and others who may be affected by work activities; this is evidenced in the continued year on year reduction in the number of people killed or injured in the UK as a result of work activities. We do not believe that the Bill will remove the right of individuals to seek redress for injuries nor do we believe that individuals should be deprived of the right to reparation where there is a genuine claim. We do see that the proposed Bill will establish additional factors for the court to consider when examining the merits of a claim and introduce a measure of reasonableness to the outcome.

8. With respect to volunteer activities many of the larger, organised voluntary organisations will operate within the same risk management framework as employers. However this Bill should help to address some of the concerns expressed by volunteers and those taking voluntary action when responding in an emergency. There have been examples of employees who have been trained in First Aid who have expressed a reluctance to use this training outside of work because of the fear of legal action should something go wrong.

9. As a responsible employer the Service does assess and manage its risks as far as is reasonably practicable however the nature of our work is high risk; we respond to emergencies where our priority is the preservation of the lives of members of the public and mitigation of damage to their property and possessions. This means that we sometimes have to use our exemptions under the Road Traffic Act to arrive at an incident as quickly as possible. We train our drivers as to how and when they may use these exemptions and they undergo regular refresher training; the Officer in Charge (OIC) of the appliance knows his/her responsibilities with regard to responding to incidents and management of the appliance. Nevertheless we do have the occasional accident when driving in these circumstances, often a lack of attention by the third party is a major contributory factor but because we are not following the rules of the road we are held liable. The social benefit clause of the Bill should help reduce this type of claim or at least the level of damages paid.

10. We have had two claims from members of the public as a result of tripping over fire hoses at separate incidents. When attending an incident the OIC’s first concern must be for those who may be in the property and to ensure that his/her crew are deployed safely, once this is accomplished the risk assessment process will start to address issues such as the safety of members of the public who may be passing by or who have come to watch. Despite the obvious noise, activity, liveried fire appliances and flashing blue lights these two members of the public managed, in daylight, to trip over hoses during the early stages of the incidents. We feel that both the social benefit and the responsible action clauses of the Bill will help address this type of claim.

11. The Service is legally obliged to provide training for its employees, for firefighters this must involve realistic exposure to the type of hazards and risks they will face operationally the residual risk in these activities is still relatively high and we have to accept that risk in order to provide the training and reduce risk at operational incidents. We have assessed the risk of all of our activities both operational and non-operational and put in place reasonably practicable measures to reduce the risk; however no activity is without risk and even after putting in place control measures there is always a residual risk. We have received several claims where we have done what is both responsible and reasonably practicable but nevertheless an accident has occurred. We have lost some of these claims on the grounds of breach of statutory duty. In future claims of this type the Bill will require the court to take into account our actions as a responsible employer.

12. The Service has never been the subject of a claim as a result of an injury or loss where "an act of heroism" on the part of one of our employees was a contributory factor. We welcome the additional test to be applied by the court with respect to the extent to which our employees were putting themselves at risk should this ever apply.

13. The Service welcomes the proposed Bill and whilst we recognise that it will not, nor should, it stop all future civil claims the additional factors for consideration by the court will perhaps deter some of the more frivolous claims and add a degree of reasonableness to the outcome of others.

14. There will still be pressure on insurers to settle defensible claims on economic grounds when the cost of winning outweighs the potential compensation to be paid and this will continue to be a frustration.

August 2014

Prepared 5th September 2014