Career fitness program for police has wider impacts

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.

Nor is this an Australian phenomenon.  South Africa instigated a similar fitness regime in March 2010.  In a terrific media grab, National Police Commissioner Bheki Cele is reported to have said:

“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.

Kevin Jones

6 thoughts on “Career fitness program for police has wider impacts”

  1. Having fit policers is definitely a superlative idea. I have seen cops whose belly\’s make them look like they are pregnanat. it makes you wonder how the hell they will chase any one down. Hopefully this comes into effect in every state.

  2. Kevin,

    This is an issue that has gained headlines in Canada as well with many police forces applying POPAT/PARE standards for physical fitness, not only for recruits but for serving officers as well.
    My major concern is what level of change will they allow over the course of 30 year career? The alleged SA standard of fitting the same uniform forever probably would probably not survive any serious human rights challenge.
    What is the expectation of employers, government, society and special interest groups who extoll health and wellness? Is everyone going to be expected to maintain a certain standard of fitness throughout life? No choice, no variety or variation.
    Employers have already used physical capability or health issues as hiring criteria, medical insurance providers have suggested higher premiums for those who do not meet certain standards of fitness or for those who have certain lifestyle habits which may be considered higher risk.
    Strictly from a OHS perspective the fitness standards for workers should be a bonafide requirement, even for emergency services personnel and the requirements have to allow for a reasonable reduction in the standards for older workers. Is the police constable who has to run 2.4 km in under 12 minutes at age 25 going to be required to do the same at age 50?
    As you pointed out, an interesting subject with far-reaching implications.

    1. Terrence, thanks for your perspective.

      The issue indicates the current disconnection between human resources, OHS and health promotion. The importance of increasing the linkages of these three elements has been stated strongly in the UK by Dame Carol Black and has been championed in Australia by Dr Niki Ellis since her return from the UK a couple of years ago. It makes great sense but this has never been sufficient reason for changes in the real world.

      The barriers I see to linking these into a social improvement in health are

      \”whole of government\” approaches to anything still has not been realised
      different government departments are based on different legislations with different performance criteria
      government performance is only measured in departmental silos except at election time
      terminology between the \”disciplines\” remains confused (but it always will be to some extent)
      safety associations remain limited in their vision and are confused about how they fiut into the big picture (in some instances they never will and they should be euthanased)

    2. Terrence, thanks for your perspective.

      The issue indicates the current disconnection between human resources, OHS and health promotion. The importance of increasing the linkages of these three elements has been stated strongly in the UK by Dame Carol Black and has been championed in Australia by Dr Niki Ellis since her return from the UK a couple of years ago. It makes great sense but this has never been sufficient reason for changes in the real world.

      The barriers I see to linking these into a social improvement in health are

      • \”whole of government\” approaches to anything still has not been realised
      • different government departments are based on different legislations with different performance criteria
      • government performance is only measured in departmental silos except at election time
      • terminology between the \”disciplines\” remains confused (but it always will be to some extent)
      • safety associations remain limited in their vision and are confused about how they fit into the big picture (in some instances they never will and they should be euthanased)

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