"Police officer fatigue cannot be ignored"

22 May 2018

Police fatigue

Dr Paul Jackson, Transport Research Lab

Police officer fatigue is an issue too important to be ignored and should never be dismissed as being “just part of the job”.
That is the message from our Roads Policing Lead Jayne Willetts as she addressed the delegates at our Annual Conference today.

Mrs Willetts, who was joined by Adrian Smiles, secretary of our Health and Safety Sub Committee, and leading academic Dr Paul Jackson, an expert on fatigue, to present the session entitled “Fatigue in our Forces”, warned that we were risking a serious problem if the issue was not addressed.

She said: “We can’t carry on the way we are because we will have a burnt out police force. Other industries have recognised the importance of addressing this issue and it must be mirrored in policing. Something has to be done, and it has to be done now.”

Dr Jackson, who is head of impairment research for ‘TRL - The Future of Transport’ and has worked with many organisations in safety-critical industries, reinforced the seriousness of the issue saying: “The simple fact is that officer fatigue is just too important an issue to ignore. “We are not talking about police officers feeling a bit tired, what we are dealing with is officers reaching the point that their decision-making could be impaired.

“Fatigue can result in reduced alertness, procedural errors and impairment in risk perception.”
He went on to describe how these issues are exacerbated by factors which are common in policing such as shift work, extended working days, interrupted sleep patterns, attempting to sleep when we are programmed to be most awake, and not fully utilising or losing their days off.

Mrs Willetts also highlighted the trend for an officer’s tiredness becoming the focus of some internal and criminal investigations: “I know of an officer involved in a fatal collision with a pedestrian. When the officer went to Coroner's Court, the focus of the cross-examination was not the fact of what happened, it was the build up to the officer’s shift - how many hours they had been on duty, had they had their break, and what they had been doing on their days off. These are now the questions being asked,” she said.

She also described what she was hearing from officers on the frontline: “I have been back to my home force of West Mercia this month specifically to talk to officers about their fatigue. They are telling me how frequently they are called in early and off late, and how many rest days they are having cancelled. They were saying quite openly ‘we are knackered’, ‘we are burnt out’ and they feel that they can’t provide the service to the public they want to.”
She went on to say: “This is unacceptable. It is no wonder that people are off sick because they know when they come back they will be in exactly the same position they were before they went off.”

Mr Smiles described how some forces are starting to recognise this as a problem for officers. He told the session of a new piece of research which has been undertaken by the Metropolitan Police Service, which will see 6,000 officers, including representatives from all shifts including CID, questioned about their levels of fatigue.

The Federation is now pushing for a national policy on fatigue to be created, we also want a cultural shift away from the idea that fatigue is “just part of the job” for police officers; for them to be provided with adequate and protected rest periods during and between shifts; and for “vital” rest days to be protected as far as possible.

Federation members were also urged to complete the next Demand, Capacity and Welfare survey, which will be launched in the summer to enable as accurate a picture as possible of the issues facing frontline officers including fatigue.

Conference continues tomorrow with keynote speeches from the Home Secretary Sajid Javid and national chair Calum Macleod, as well as sessions on pay and conditions, counter-terrorism and detectives in crisis. Find out more and how to watch live on the event page.