Police officers should be entitled to take their breaks to rest and recover from their highly stressful work, the Chairman of Gloucestershire Police Federation has said.
Steve James said he was concerned by a new survey that revealed high levels of fatigue among officers, and he encouraged senior police leaders to “look carefully at the triggers and how they might be addressed, as many are avoidable”.
More than 34,000 police officers and staff from England and Wales responded to the first ever national police wellbeing survey, carried out by Oscar Kilo, the National Police Wellbeing Service, and the College of Policing. The survey ran for eight weeks between November 2019 and January 2020.
Almost half (45%) of officers reported frequently getting fewer than six hours’ sleep, with shift workers more likely to experience poor sleep quality and report lower levels of emotional energy and job satisfaction.
In addition, 49.1% of officers reported having had two or more rest days cancelled in the past 12 months, with 17.7% reporting four or more rest day cancellations. The findings highlighted a clear association between the cancellation of rest days and a reduction in wellbeing for officers.
Oscar Kilo said that the results would help them prioritise research into how to tackle fatigue. Chief Constable Andy Rhodes, NPCC Wellbeing Lead and Service Director for Oscar Kilo, said: “We are linking in with staff associations, wellbeing leads across the UK and experts from around the world to establish a specific area of work on fatigue as part of the national programme to ensure we address this.”
Gloucestershire Police Federation Chairman Steve James said: “Shift work is essential to providing a 24/7/365 emergency service, but numerous studies show the effects that shift work has on the body. Good sleep is intrinsic to maintaining both physical and mental health. It is important that we learn how a career of shift work contributes to the poor health of officers and that we take measures to mitigate this and support officers to be healthier.”
Steve added that it wasn’t just shift work that caused fatigue in officers, citing overwork, understaffing and the often traumatic and stressful nature of policing roles. He said: “I’d encourage senior leaders to look carefully at the triggers that are causing this fatigue in officers and how they might be addressed, as many are avoidable.”
He also urged officers to take the breaks that they need and are entitled to. He said: “There has long been a culture of officers working through their breaks because there’s always one more job to go, one more person in need, and fewer officers available to attend, so officers will often put that ahead of their own welfare.
“Officers should be encouraged by managers to take their breaks, away from the call of the radio, where possible. This should be built into working practices and processes. It isn’t good enough that a Custody Sergeant or FIM can’t take a break away from their work because there is no one available to cover. Our officers deserve better.”