Coronavirus: Police Scotland reported to the HSE over breath tests

Police Scotland has been reported to the Health and Safety Executive by the body which represents rank-and-file officers over the use of breath tests. The Scottish Police Federation (SPF) said it was concerned that officers could be exposed to Covid-19 while conducting drink drive tests. The federation claims testing urine samples would be a “safer alternative”.

But Police Scotland said it is “meeting, and often exceeding, the relevant guidelines”. The force said it was following the advice and direction of bodies including the HSE and Health Protection Scotland (HPS), and applying a “comprehensive operational policing risk assessment”. Among the guidelines issued to officers is to conduct all roadside breath tests outside whilst wearing masks and gloves, with the option to use tougher protective equipment if there are concerns a person might have coronavirus.

Risks not ‘properly mitigated’

In a letter to SPF members, Calum Steele, the body’s general secretary, said: “Police Scotland operational guidance in respect of breath test procedures neither reflects best risk management practices, or properly mitigates risk to officers.

“Colleagues will know from their own experiences that suspects often take several attempts to generate enough lung capacity and technique to be able to successfully comply. “We are clear that alternative approaches in no way hinder the ability of the police to respond to and detect those who drink and drive, or introduce greater risk to the system of work.” The SPF, which represents 98% of all officers, said it issued a health and safety improvement notice about the issue to Police Scotland on 30 April.

The union claims the force failed to properly engage with the concerns and it was forced to take the “extraordinary step” of reporting Scotland’s single police force to the HSE.

The SPF wants urine samples used instead of breath tests but added that if this was not deemed possible then full protective equipment, including face masks and goggles, should be worn at all times in the test process. The body’s stance is backed by its panel of scientific and medical experts, which includes Scotland’s former chief medical officer Sir Harry Burns.

Meeting and exceeding guidelines

Deputy Chief Constable Fiona Taylor said: “We follow the advice and direction of HPS, the HSE and the National Police Chief’s Council and apply a comprehensive operational policing risk assessment when developing guidance for officers and staff. “Police Scotland is meeting, and often exceeding, the relevant guidelines.”

Ms Taylor added that the force recognises its “moral, ethical and legal duty to the safety and welfare of our officers and staff”.

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