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SIO Corner: Health And Safety Considerations

This week we look at issues relating to Health and Safety and the use of a Special Advisory Group (SAG)

In this series we look at various aspects of life as an SIO. This includes the necessary skill sets for the successful SIO, the management of serious crime investigation and specific elements of investigative practice from initial response through crime scene examination and investigative strategies to dealing with suspects and the media. The articles are excerpts from the 2nd edition of Blackstone's, the 'Senior Investigating Officers' Handbook', written by two highly experienced SIOs (see 'About the Authors' at the end of the article).

Health and Safety Considerations

Crime scenes present a range of hazards that require dynamic risk assessment. Examples of these include:

Generic risk assessments may exist for attendance at crime scenes. However, given the above, it is essential wherever possible that appropriate advice is sought and personal protective clothing is worn when required. In addition to protecting the individual this minimizes the possibility of contamination. At a major or serious crime scene standard protection usually consistsof a scene suit with hood up, face mask, overshoes, and protective gloves.

When dealing with scenes containing blood staining or known infectious diseases, extra care must be taken to avoid hazards and risk from potential blood borne infections, eg HIV or Hepatitus B. Gloves should always be worn when handling items or persons covered in blood, or other bodily fluids. Dried blood is also a hazard as it can enter the body through mucus membranes.

Wearing a disposable mask can reduce the risk of inhaling particles. Footwear or other items of police clothing may also need to be decontaminated to avoid the risk of cross-transfer.

Firearms and explosive devices or dangerous substances quite obviously present extra hazards. Firearms must never be handled until they have been rendered safe by a qualified firearms officer or equivalent expert and explosives need very specialist advice and resources.

Sometimes crime scenes are hazardous places and officers must remain alert to spot any dangers, think quickly, adapt, and take a flexible approach. In exteme cases, staff may have to instinctively abandon crime scenes, pick up exhibits, or leave a deceased in place because of the severity of the danger or risk involved. Potential threats to members of the public and/ or officers in some circumstances may present no alternative.

Some priorities may therefore override the needs of the investigation and it may not always be possible to keep a crime scene sterile.

In some inner city areas or amongst unruly communities, for example, there may be a distrust of the police, gang feuds, and regular firearms usage, or hostile or distressed families and friends of victims, which can pose difficult circumstances to work under.

Fortunately these are exceptions rather than the rule. In such cases it may be possible to have a small cordoned area (eg immediately around a victim) and extend it when support arrives and crowds disperse. Later there may also be alternative ways of recreating crime scenes by use of, for example, CCTV, media footage, witness accounts, or photographs.

Safety of the public and the personnel who are engaged at the scene is at all times of paramount importance and non-negotiable. If there is a conflict of interest between public safety and the investigation, the former always takes precedence, although it should always be the aim to try to minimize the destruction or loss of evidential material.

Reasons why emergency actions were taken should be recorded and made known to the SIO and CSM/CSI as soon as practic able. Actions that have limited the potential for forensic recovery must be justified at a later stage, and it is wise to record in precise details exactly what and why there was a necessity for not preserving evidence. This demonstrates good standards of integrity and honesty of purpose.


1. The SIO and CSM should ensure there are adequate safeguards in place for all the staff engaged at a scene. Members of the examination team may need to spend a lot of time in what might be wet, cold, or unpleasant working conditions and provisions must be made for their welfare and safety. Simple things such as providing warm and dry rest, changing, cleaning, toiletry, and refreshment facilities within easy access will make a great deal of difference to their working environment and ability to maintain high levels of morale.

2. The appropriate level of personal protective equipment (PPE) must always be incorporated into risk assessment control strategies.

3. At major incidents it is the responsibility of the CSM or co-ordinator to liaise with the SIO to ensure that adequate police protection is available for all scene investigation personnel (National Crime Scene Investigation Manual, Issue 1 (ACPO National Crime Scene Investigation Board 2007), 50.

Use Of A Specialist Advisory Group

In certain cases there may be a need for the SIO to establish a specialist advisory group (SAG) comprising appropriate experts in the various fields when dealing with a risk assessment for entering any dangerous scene, for example in fire/arson deaths, explosions, dangerous premises, mass fatality incidents, or suspected chemical or structural dangers when the SAG may have to include senior representatives from agencies such as:


Whenever there is to be a joint enterprise amongst agencies to deal with a delicate, dangerous and/or prolonged crime scene assessment or examination, the communication means must be ‘interoperable’, i.e. on-site communications equipment must be compatible to facilitate an effective and successful operation.

About the Authors:

Detective Superintendent Tony Cook was a CID officer with Greater Manchester Police for over 31 years until his retirement in 2009. During his time as an SIO, he led a number of high profile investigations including operations into gangland violence at Moss Side, the Bolton murder of a teenage girl in 2002, and the Denton strangling case. He was a trained assessor for promotion and a qualified Authorising Officer under RIPA. Tony received 14 commendations and a first-class BSc Honours degree in social sciences and a Diploma in Social Policy & Criminology from the Open University.

Andy Tattersall, formerly Detective Superintendent in Greater Manchester Police on the Force Major Incident Team, retired in 2007 after 33 years service and became the first ever Support Staff SIO in charge of a new Homicide Support Unit. With over 29 years in CID at all ranks Andy received the Homicide Working Group National Award for his Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Homicide in November 2006.

To see more details about the Senior Investigating Officers' Handbook, or to purchase a copy, click here

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