Our “Procedures” Dominated Emergency Services

Very shortly sections of the fire service are expected to go on strike.  The British Fire Brigades Union usually tells the public that they don’t actually want to strike, but management intransigence has driven them to take what is euphemistically called “industrial action” or rather “non-action”.

One suspects that the action or rather non-action of the fire-fighters called to the 7/7 bomb outrages in London’s Underground will make the public even less inclined to sympathise with them this time round.  Some fire-fighters’ refusal to go to the assistance of the wounded and dying in the stricken trains, notably at the Aldgate station, until they had received certificates signed by an approved authority in London Underground’s management to the effect that the third rail was safe, even with people standing on it to demonstrate that the current was switched off, is all too reminiscent of the recent incident where police refused to enter a cottage where a gunman was thought to be hiding, and two people were actually dying, because “procedure required a specified number of armed police officers to be present as “back-up”.  A neighbour ignored the police ban on entering the cottage and discovered there wasn’t actually any gunman there!

Doubtless the fire service and the police service include individual brave men and women who are as disgusted with this type of behaviour as the general public are.  It is also fair to note that the British Fire Service doesn’t actually let a house burn down, because the owner hasn’t paid their local taxes, as happened recently in the USA.  Nonetheless these cases and several others highlight a fundamental malaise in our public services.

This is supplanting personal initiative and commonsense by slavish adherence to “procedures” laid down after exhaustive negotiation with “stakeholders” which typically include just about every group except the public themselves.

Unthinking adherence to procedures is both a jobsworth’s charter and a backside protection mechanism in a society infested with lawyers anxious to sue on a no-win-no-fee basis any organisation whose employees are accused of “not following agreed procedures” resulting in the death or injury of someone.

Now lets be clear: there are cases, particularly in the medical sphere and in construction, where not following tried and trusted procedures has indeed resulted in someone’s death or injury, for which they or their families should rightly be compensated.  The proposal in this post is to rein back the compensation culture and to bring people to recognise that there is such a thing as a genuine accident – a chance conjunction of events for which nobody is responsible.

The first step to implement this proposal is explicitly to establish an appealable concept into British law to the effect that people who act reasonably in the circumstances shall not be liable to be sued.  It would be for the complainants to establish a prima facie case that the complained of person or organisation did not act reasonably before either civil or criminal proceedings be allowed to be brought against them.

One particular sphere to which this concept would bring immediate benefit is the teaching profession.  If, before suspending a teacher, Local Education Authorities required a parent complaining about a teacher’s treatment of their child to compose a literate, checkable, written complaint before accusing a teacher of something, and that complaint were carefully cross-checked where possible, including giving the teacher an opportunity to defend the reasonableness of their actions in writing, much grief to the teacher and the child would be avoided.

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