The government is to consult on a new duty to require businesses and Local Authorities to put in place measures to protect the public in the event of a terrorist attack, according to plans from the Home Office.
The announcement follows a bomb attack during an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena in 2017, as well as incidents at London’s Fishmongers’ Hall and Streatham in the last six months.
The new ‘Protect Duty’ will be consulted on by the government in spring, following discussions with victims’ groups such as the Martyn’s Law campaign – established by Figen Murray, whose son Martyn Hett was one of 22 killed in the Manchester attack.
Under the government's proposals, parliament would pass a new law that would impose a legal duty on whoever is responsible for the management of public spaces.
It would require owners and operators to consider the risk of an attack and the plans they have in place to either help prevent it happening – or to manage the aftermath.
The duty could include obligations to review and improve not only the physical security of a location, but also how well staff members are trained to deal with an incident.
Security minister James Brokenshire said: 'We are in complete agreement with campaigners such as Figen Murray on the importance of venues and public spaces having effective and proportionate protective security and preparedness measures to keep people safe.
'Of course, it is important that this new law is proportionate. This public consultation will ensure we put in place a law that will help protect the public, while not putting undue pressure on businesses.'
However Duncan Spencer, head of advice and practice at IOSH, believes that we must be careful to balance emotion with rationality.
While there is a duty under section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA), which covers the safety of others affected by your undertaking – terrorism is not your undertaking, he noted. ‘Terror is a criminal act and not to do with how work is conducted.’
Duncan cited the example of a betting shop assistant who was seriously injured by an attack in a shop where she worked. ‘There was some attempt to look at the application of sections 2 and 3 by the authorities, but in the end the argument that it was a criminal act and not a safety concern prevailed. It is unreasonable for employers to be able to predict which customer is a potentially violent or a terrorist.'
The kind of controls cited by the campaign, including locks on doors and extra cameras, are not preventative and may even fall foul of other regulations such as keeping fire escapes free, he warned. ‘If a venue invites the public in, such controls would not stop an attack. Terrorists will still come and go, just as the public does. It is the duty of MI5 and the police to identify and prevent, not business.
'While it is tragic that Mr Hyatt lost his life, in my opinion this would not be good law,’ added Duncan, reminding us that it is how we ended up with the outdoor licensing regulations after the Lyme Regis Canoe tragedy. ‘It didn’t really improve safety in an industry that was already safe, and suffered an incident caused by one rogue operator.’ And he should know, he worked in the industry at the time.
So is there a duty for the employer? Yes, in that they must have contingency plans for dealing with the aftermath of an incident (not prevention). Particularly where large numbers are involved.
‘Large public venues already do this,’ added Duncan. ‘They have to think about how to funnel people away from the scene and deal with the casualties before the police arrive to take control of what becomes a crime scene.’
IOSH magazine will keep you updated with the government’s consultation when further details are released.