Of Warriors and Worriers
: Exploring Influencing Side Effects of Contemporary Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Practice in the Remit of Frontline Police Work

  • Martin Holzer

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Occupational safety and health (OSH) practices for frontline police officers are developing rapidly across many Western jurisdictions. Various organisations, such as police forces and unions, view this as a mainly technology-driven development – for instance, thinking about wearing protective equipment and/or body-worn cameras – and at the same time as indispensable in the face of increasing numbers of assaults on frontline police officers, knife crimes, rampages, or terrorist attacks. At the same time, current developments seem to promote an accumulation of OSH practice and OSH interventions focusing on frontline officers on the beat. Commonly, in academia and practice, there is a perception that – alongside enhancing the sense of safety at the frontline – applied OSH practice seems to be seen as a panacea, a “cure- all”, and something invariably positive. However, little is known about how police officers themselves think about this. Based on a cross-cultural exploratory sequential mixed-method research design amongst frontline police officers from England (N = 12/113) and Malta (N = 144/654), this study explored so far undiscovered side effects of OSH practice in the remit of frontline police work. While putting a strong emphasis on human factors, where frontline police officers are essentially seen as humans at work, particular attention was placed on their individual risk assessment and perception. This research has identified that an organisational and/or institutionalised overreliance on standardised risk management processes could paradoxically trigger the risk averseness of frontline police officers, generally leading them to habitual over- worrying, consequently bringing safety culture and occupational cop culture into tension. Although the presented study confirms that good OSH practice remains the predominant safeguard for safety and well-being while on duty, the findings of this work provide, for the first time, some empirical evidence that frontline police officers’ OSH awareness significantly triggers and predicts their operational decision-making processes, inner context components, and their perceptions related to the perceived risk of their own victimisation. Thus, by integrating original qualitative and quantitative findings, this study could successfully demonstrate that in the remit of frontline policing – paradoxically – negative side effects of contemporary OSH practice exist, all about being able to affect work performance and work results adversely. The presented research highlights the need for and importance of always critically reflecting on applied OSH practice and always keeping a balance when it comes to police health and safety interventions.
Date of Award27 Oct 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorFrancis Pakes (Supervisor), Richard John (Supervisor) & Julian Parker-McLeod (Supervisor)

Cite this