Breathing apparatus policy under review by Health and Safety Executive


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The Fire Brigades Union expresses concerns about the new guidelines that could compromise firefighters’ safety.

Fire Brigades Union voices concerns about new guidelines for firefighters

The Fire Brigades Union has expressed relief following the Health and Safety Executive’s decision to look into the latest breathing apparatus policy adopted by the Fire and Rescue Service.

Introduced by the National Fire Chiefs Council, this policy would direct firefighters to approach fires without immediately activating their breathing apparatus.

During high-rise fire interventions, it’s a standard procedure for the Fire Brigade to establish a ‘bridgehead’ at a secure location within the building.

Traditionally, firefighters would run a series of checks and enable their breathing apparatus before moving closer to the flames.

However, the newly suggested guidelines would instruct them to proceed without this essential step.

Several cities decline to implement the new breathing apparatus procedure

The proposed change might endanger firefighters, exposing them to threats like smoke before they can equip their breathing apparatus.

This could also mean greater contact with toxic fire pollutants.

Notably, fire authorities from cities like London, Birmingham, and Manchester have already chosen not to adopt this new policy, but other locations seem poised to embrace it.

The Fire Brigades Union, after raising concerns in May 2022, waited over a year for a response from the Health and Safety Executive.

Initially, the HSE claimed that the issue was not their responsibility. However, recent developments show the HSE revising their initial stance.

They are now set to scrutinise the breathing apparatus policy closely.

In a subsequent correspondence with the FBU, the HSE admitted their previous approach had been insufficient and offered an apology to the union.

Throughout this phase, the Fire Brigades Union has consistently advised its members to ensure their safety. They recommend not venturing beyond the bridgehead without an activated breathing apparatus.

Statements from the Fire Brigades Union leaders

Ben Selby, Assistant General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, remarked: “We welcome the fact that the Health and Safety Executive has seen sense and decided to investigate this issue properly.

“The delays we encountered in addressing this critical safety concern were frankly unacceptable. It’s reassuring to see them now taking the necessary action. We urge all Fire and Rescue Services to reconsider this policy.”

Adding his thoughts, Riccardo la Torre, National Officer of the Fire Brigades Union, stated: “Changing the breathing apparatus safety procedures presents a significant risk to our firefighters.

“We remain committed to holding the Health and Safety Executive accountable and will challenge any service that looks to adopt this procedure.

“Our guidance to our members remains firm. As dedicated firefighters and BA wearers, they should avoid risking their safety without an activated breathing apparatus.”

IFSJ Comment

The evolving breathing apparatus guidelines and their potential impact on firefighter safety demonstrate the vital role of both regulation and advocacy.

The Fire Brigades Union’s persistent efforts underline the necessity of continuous dialogue and review in shaping policies that directly impact frontline workers.

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