Australian newspapers reported that Victoria Police will be applying fitness criteria not only to police recruits but throughout their career. Other than giving headline writers the chance for puns about “thin blue lines”, the coverage raises the long existing issue over fit-for-duty.
Workplace health and fitness is not a new issue of Victoria Police. It used Body Mass Index as an assessment criteria in 2009 and has politely motivated police to increase their fitness for years. Other emergency services, such as the fire brigades, have had gyms and other programs but the nature of the industry allowed for stations that incorporated living and exercise facilities. Shift rosters and the patrol duties of police never allowed the same options.
“Police officers should be able to walk with their heads held high, their stomach in, and chest out – not the other way around….”
Fitness for duty can be one of the nightmares for OHS and HR professionals as it can impinge on personal choice, personal health, physical capacity, job design, return-to-work duties….. The Victoria Police program is “fitness for career” which requires substantially more planning and consideration.
South Africa is applying a rough method of judgement reportedly:
“Officers will be required to maintain the uniform size issued when they leave the academy. Those who exceed the size of the uniform they are issued will be given the opportunity to get back into shape over a year.”
Let’s hope they don’t grow taller!
The need for physical fitness is clear in some industries, particularly the emergency services, but this should not be confused with illness prevention. All workers should be aware of the health and physical need to avoid illness. This is the basis for many workplace health promotions – illness prevention. The Victoria Police strategy is stepping this up into a different context and with the hope and expectation that a fit police force will be a deterrent to some criminals.
Inspector Dan Trimble links the two elements:
“I think it is fair for someone who has their handbag snatched to expect that police will be fit enough to give chase,” he said. ”They may not be able to catch them but at least they can chase.”
He said the fitness standards would promote a healthy workforce. ”We want our people to be able to enjoy both life and work.”
This increase in the attention to fitness for duty in the police force will extend throughout the emergency services and other industries with similar needs. The work health promotion companies are likley to be watching this move closely to justify similar programs across many industries. The legal commentariat may also be watching the program for signs of discrimination on the basis of poor fitness.
If there was a suggestion of a conspiracy by health promoters to increase their market influence and relevance, the raising of this program in a crime-fighting service could not have provided a better platform because few people would advocate for fat police as this would allow criminals an advantage.
The fitness debate has moved from personal choice and a lifestyle issue to one of fitness standards and career requirements – an interesting development with wider implications.