Whose safety first?

Guy defusing a landmine

Whose life? Whose safety?

The picture above shows an official of a bomb disposal squad attempting to defuse a landmine that was booby trapped in a forest area of the West Bengal state of India. It was unfortunate that he died in the attempt as the landmine blew up on his face (for a detailed account and picture of how it all happened, read the page here:

http://www.telegraphindia.com/1060922/asp/frontpage/story_6779024.asp).

Why was he doing what was he doing? Why was he prying open a potential live bomb with hammer and chisel with no safety equipment worn on him? It’s very unfortunate that our police forces are supposed to tackle issues like defusing live bombs and chase terrorists and people with guns, but more often than not, occupational safety issues are ignored.

It’s surprising that there is very little literature out there that addresses the issues of occupational safety for security personnel and police forces. I searched the Pubmed with the following keywords: “Occupational Health”[MeSH] AND “Police”[MeSH] to capture as much literature as I could. Here are the search results. I could retrieve about 53 articles, but none of them dealt with issues related to occupational hazards of police officials who disposed bombs, etc, or safety awareness among police officials, or intervention research to improve safety consciousness. No primary study, no secondary data analysis that could fit a systematic review. There may have been some research tucked somewhere, but at least Pubmed database did not archive any that could be retrieved by their generic keywords.

As police forces, particularly in countries like india, need to tackle problems of defusing bombs, and terrorist plots, there is a need for systematic training of these personnel in occupational hazards and safety awareness. This also needs to be reflected in research people do.

Journalists, particularly those who cover war and terror is the other very vulnerable group. In the blast that occured in West Bengal on the 21st September, 2006, several journalists got severly injured.

It’s sad, almost to the point of callousness that police officials and journalists paid so scant attention to their occupational hazards even as they deal with dangerous stuff day in and day out. There was clear lack of awareness; how do you explain the near Darwin award nomination style attempt to defuse a bomb with just chisel and hammers? The accidents and deaths yesterday were stark reminders of what could happen if you ignore safety.

There is an urgent need to set up studies on occupational safety and their awareness among security forces, police officials, and journalists. There is also a need for organizing regular training programs and training manuals for these occupational groups.

Anyone listening?

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