Thoughts on tasers and the hierarchy of controls

The Braidwood inquiry report into the use of energy weapons (tasers) is readily available on the internet.  Regular readers of SafetyAtWorkBlog would know that I consider tasers to be a item of personal protective equipment (PPE) for enforcement officers.

Phase1Report-2009-06-18 coverDetermining whether PPE is the most appropriate hazard control measure usually involves the application of the Hierarchy of Controls. The hierarchy is not applicable for all workplace hazards, particularly in the control of psychosocial hazards, but it’s a good place to start.

While reading the executive summary of Canada’s Braidwood report, one part in particular reminded me of the hierarchy – page 17.

Although the definitions for “assaultive behaviour” in both use-of-force continuums can be traced back to the Criminal Code’s language for common assault, they also justify use of the weapon when there has been only an attempted common assault, and even when no criminal offence has been committed.  I concluded that the subject behaviour threshold should be met when the subject is causing bodily harm or the officer is satisfied, on reasonable grounds, that the subject’s behaviour will imminently cause bodily harm.  Even then, an officer should not deploy the weapon unless satisfied, on reasonable grounds, that no lesser force option would be effective, and de-escalation and/or crisis intervention techniques would not be effective.

Let’s see if the hierarchy can apply.

Can the subject behaviour be eliminated? – No

Substitution doesn’t seem relevant.

Can we engineer out the threatening behaviour? – Barriers, shields… perhaps but the presence of these items may also inflame the behaviour, increasing the hazard.

Can administrative controls be applied to the hazard? Unlikely, unless the subject was cooperative or able to accept instruction or read signs, in which case, the hazard may not exist.

That leaves PPE, in this case a Taser.

The report places a considerable number of criteria that the enforcement officer must apply prior to using the taser and these should be considered administrative controls but as these apply to the enforcement officer and not the subject, they would not come under the hierarchy of controls.

I welcome readers comments on this rumination on Tasers as PPE, and/or the application of the Hierarchy of Controls to a police situation.

Kevin Jones

Categories assault, government, human rights, law, OHS, PPE, risk, safety, technology, training, Uncategorized, violenceTags , ,

5 thoughts on “Thoughts on tasers and the hierarchy of controls”

  1. Substitutiion is absolutely relevant and one of the major issues alligned with this debate.

    Let me explain.

    If you are in a situation that involves a violent or confrontational individual. Then a police officer has a number of \”Options\” available to him.

    Lets assume that the negotiation/elimination phase is long gone, a shame, but occassionally rough men have to stand ready to do rough things for societies sake.

    The options are thus, in escellating order, with draw backs.

    1. \”Go hands on\” – manual handling at its most basic with all the issues that manual handling brings with it. Chance of injury to officer – very high.

    2. O/C Spray – the most readily available of chemical deterant available to officers. This stuff hurts, it hurts bad and almost 9 times out of ten the officer will recieve a degree of \”secondary exposure\”. The most common effect is the equivelant of choping up a heap of hot chillies, rubbing then in your eyes and snorting them up your nose and then pouring boiling water over your face. Not pleasant, reducing the officers effectiveness by up to and including 100%. Now given that sometimes \”spray\” has no effect at all on some people, the potential is that the good guy goes down and the bad guy stays up. Instantly the bad guy has total control over the situation and easy access to some pretty nasty weapons if he decides to take them off the police officer, who being is spray affected would not be hard to do.

    3. Baton – another manual handling issue. Let me hit you with a peice of thin metal and we can look at the injuries caused. Common injuries resulting consist of lascerations, breaks and severe bruising. Looking at only one of those injuries,lasceration. Lasceration means blood, blood in a \”bad guy\” means disease. A man that gets batoned and starts bleeding does not stop fighting and lie down, he continues to fight and then the police officer has to go \”hands on\” with a bleeding man with diseases that is really pissed off. Police officer is now exposed to biological hazard, with possible life time injury as a result(Hep c, Hep A to Z, AIDS. Acceptable?).

    4. Fire arm – we can all work out the pro\’s and con\’s of this.
    Now think about the fact that the officer has seconds, as in ONE or TWO, to make a descision about what to go for.

    This is what makes OHS in the Police, in an operational context for such an amazing excersice and one that very few want to take on.

    Just putting this all out there for concideration.

    I am a OHS Rep for a busy city police station.

  2. Hmm…perhaps a case of where a risk control just doesn\’t fit neatly.

    For mine, the naysaying media reporting about Taser use is just more of the same; find the shock-jock angle (pun intended) and run with that. Here\’s a real situation.

    Call goes out there is a fight between 2 men in a suburban street. Two cops arrive and discover that one of the men is wielding a big sword. Out comes the cop\’s gun. Cop screaming at the sword wielder to drop the sword. Sword guy begins to move slowly but steadily towards the cop with the gun. No sign he is going to stop. Sword man\’s eyes show he is determined to take the cop on, despite the gun. Cop involved is thinking, \”This is it, I\’m going to have to kill a man.\” Enter stage right a bloke out walking his dog. Crisis overload. Dog-walker\’s brain refuses to acknowledge this could possibly be happening on his lovely regular wander with Rover. He is heading right between sword man and the cop with a gun leveled at the sword man. Cop happens to see out the corner of his eye that dog-walker is not registering it all. Screamed at to keep away. Dog-walker\’s brain has clearly melted down and promptly walks directly between the 2 men. The bizarre behavior is enough to snap sword man out of whatever loopy space his head was at. He looks at the cop, shrugs and drops his sword. Man cuffed and situation under control.

    So if Mr dog walker had decided that he\’d rather watch the footy or even if his brain hadn\’t had a reality-denying moment, it is pretty likely that a guy who had dropped his bundle would be dead and my son would have to live the rest of his life wondering if he could have done anything to stop having to kill a man.

    Where does a Taser fit in the hierarchy of controls? Not important to me. Let the buggers have \’em.

  3. Terry

    Thanks for your generous comments.

    You identify the core element of all the issues regarding stun guns – the desire for a non-lethal solution to a hazardous situation.

    Several of the stun gun inquires originated from the death or injury of those shot by such guns and this has, perhaps, personalised or narrowed the focus to an \”event\” rather than a \”process\”.

    I support those techniques that are non-lethal but require time or, more importantly, patience and understanding. Negotiation has become an important skill over decades and across cultural boundaries, and one that the quest for a \”quick fix\” is pushing out of favour.

    The Braidwood report, it seems to me, has established some excellent guidelines for the circumstances in which tasers can be appropriately deployed. As you say, a taser is a tool, and any tool requires a skilled user.

  4. Kevin,

    As previously commented I do not believe a taser should be considered a piece of PPE, therefore I am going to use the hierarchy of controls from a different perspective. Consider the taser to be a piece of equipment that poses a hazard both to the user and to the tasered person and we consider the hierarchy;

    Elimination – not likely as it is considered to be an effective law enforcement tool
    Substitution – not applicable
    Engineering – applies to the extent that the equipment is properly designed, manufactured and maintained.
    Administrative – this is the control that seems to be deficient at least from the perspective of the Braidwood Report. It identifies that both training of taser users and policy regarding criteria for use, reporting of use, investigation of use, disciplinary process for improper use.
    PPE – limited application; safety footwear, possible use of specialty glove to protect against accidental shock to user.

    I believe that a taser is a tool that can be used in a lot of law enforcement situations rather than a firearm. However as taser use by law enforcement agencies has expanded confusion has arisen with 2 important issues. The first is the wide variation in training requirements for users. The second and more disturbing is the acceptance by many of those users that the taser can be used for any reason or situation because it is \”safe\”. It has too often replaced the concept of negotiation or non-confrontational discussion in situations of non-criminal activity. It\’s easier to use the taser and ask questions afterwards rather than come up with reasonable approproiate procedures for use.

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