Taxpayer foots the bill for police walking wounded

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A policeman's lot is not a happy one, especially if he has the wrong kind of boots.

The results of a survey into accidents among the law enforcers suggest that the flat-footed image of the bobby on the beat may not be that far off the mark. According to its findings, foot-related injuries could be costing the taxpayer up to pounds 5.5m a year.

The injuries include slipping, tripping and falling over, and the huge cost comes from the time needed off work by the victims to recover from their accidents. In fact, the real figure could be even higher if the payment of ill-health pensions is taken into account.

Such a startling level of foot-related accidents comes in a survey carried out by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) last year, and reported in this week's Policing Today magazine. Bill Hughes, deputy chief constable of Hertfordshire and chairman of Acpo's uniform project group, explains the disturbing findings.

"We conducted a study in West Yorkshire from June to August last year and we looked at all reports of foot-related injuries. We found that 48 officers had sustained injuries and sent them questionnaires, with 34 replying." The findings caught senior officers on the hop. "We extrapolated from this that over a year the service could be losing pounds 5.5m in lost opportunity costs," says Mr Hughes. The results of all this could have far-reaching consequences, at least for police footwear. The uniform project group is working on a specification for a standard police boot, with the emphasis on being waterproof and providing proper protection for the vulnerable parts of a foot.

Once the specification is agreed for the new super-boot, the Association of Police Purchasing Managers will draw up framework contracts for forces, so they can invite bids for boot-making from different manufacturers. Mr Hughes explains: "It will be down to individual forces to complete risk assessments, and, if they believe that personal protective equipment is required, then there is the specification, which should provide the best protection for officers."

Under new health and safety laws next year, local police forces will for the first time be under a duty to supply safety equipment for their employees. And boots are not all that may change - the distinctive helmet could be altered too.

A separate survey, also carried in Policing Today, suggests that as many as one in five officers suffers a head injury every year. The results of this new ACPO survey, which indicate that the traditional helmet is not effective at preventing certain injuries, are now being analysed. Plans are already in hand for a tough "concept helmet" with goggles and in-built radio, but the injury figures could lead to a safer "traditional" helmet for when the sci-fi-style headgear is not thought appropriate. As Mr Hughes says of the concept helmet: "They are a good bit of protective kit, but you are a little bit `tooled up' wearing them. We want something that is protective but does not make officers look ridiculous and makes them approachable."