A decision by the UK Supreme Court on the health and safety of soldiers has caused a row in an online forum for occupational health specialists, raising questions about the human rights of troops but also on whether political comments are acceptable in social media.
The UK Supreme Court decided on 30 June 2010 that the lives of military servicemen and women are not protected by the Human Rights Act when they are outside military bases, in a ruling about the death of a soldier from heat exposure. A controversial posting in reaction to the decision on the Jiscmail online forum for occupational health specialists has caused a storm of protest. I am writing an opinion piece on this for personneltoday.com and here is an outline of the issues I think it raises.
The offending post, written under the pseudonym Aminot Goodenough, said: "If a soldier dies from heat exhaustion, or becomes deaf while firing weapons away from base, or damages his feet from ill-fitting boots worn away from base, or suffers from PTSD as a result of events that occurred outside base, then his employer will not have to be held to account..."
What were the objections to this? Members of the forum felt it should not be used as a political soapbox and that the post was out of touch with the attitude of troops and might undermine morale."
I have scoured the comments but was unable to find any substantive arguments as to whether the Supreme Court decision was justifiable on a legal or ethical basis or any discussion of the degree to which, if any, the health and safety of troops once outside military bases is the responsibility of OH.
Is it self-evident that it is not practically possible to protect troops from health and safety risks once they leave an army base? Once in service, is it possible to differentiate between occupational health and safety risks and the risks of combat? And can you ban politics from professional forums?
Sober opinions on these and other questions raised would be gratefully received.