I blogged yesterday about the remarkable incident in which a Manchester Evening News photographer was arrested for having the nerve to take take pictures of people fighting outside court. Once the fight had died down, the photographer was ‘de-arrested.’
I suggested that this was probably proof that chief constable Peter Fahy’s call for police officers to use ‘commonsense’ over ‘red tape’ should be ignored.
Over in Lincolnshire, however, it’s a different story – a force which has no problem in providing officers with the indepth advice even for the most obvious things – such as the fact that leaving sandwiches in a hot car can lead to food poisoning.
Using the website WhatDoTheyKnow, a David Johnson asked Lincolnshire Police for a copy of ‘Health & Safety Guidance Note 11 – Packed Lunches’.
The force replied – and it’s well worth a read, if not for the advice then for an insight into just how mollycoddled it appears someone thinks officers in Lincolnshire need to be:
‘Health & Safety Guidance Note 11 – Packed Lunches’
Packed lunches can be a healthy and nutritious lunch but are often prepared many hours in advance. They can be a breeding ground for food poisoning bacteria if left in a warm place such as a briefcase, classroom, desk, office or car for a long period of time. By midday, lunch boxes left in warm surroundings could contain millions of bacteria, enough to make you really ill.
Over 70,000 cases of food poisoning are notified each year. However, most food poisoning is never recorded and experts believe that the actual number of food poisoning cases in the UK is around one million per year.
2. Preparing packed lunches
• Wash and dry your hands before you start.
• Cover any cuts with a waterproof plaster.
• Clean work surfaces with an anti-bacterial cleaning solution before and after food preparation.
• Check that all food to be used is within the ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ date.
• Wash all fruit, vegetables and salad ingredients under cold running water, including bags of ready-prepared salad.
• Keep raw and cooked foods separate during storage and preparation. If possible use different chopping boards and utensils for cooked and raw products. Disinfect surfaces in between preparation of raw and cooked foods.
• Meat and poultry should be cooked thoroughly to destroy bacteria. It should be cooled as quickly as possible, within 90 minutes, and stored in the fridge until required. Never put hot food in the fridge.
• Check your refrigerator with a thermometer regularly to ensure that it is working properly.
* * *
In my opinion, if any of the above came as a shock to a police officer, then I’m not sure I’d hold out much hope of them solving a crime, or indeed surviving a day on the beat – even in rural Lincolnshire.
But this FOI does demonstrate the value of research prior to submitting an FOI – the more you clearly know about the area your asking for information about, the better your chance of success.
Five tips to helping you do this:
1. Know the jargon: Some hospitals won’t release information about bed blocking if you call it bed blocking – they prefer ‘delayed discharge.’ This FOI clearly demonstrated the requester knew what he was talking about.
2. See if other authorities have released the same information: On more than one occasion, being able to show an FOI officer an example of information released by another authority has enabled them to understand exactly what I wanted.
3. Talk to an expert at the authority: Most FOI officers want to get a request solved quickly, so won’t mind having a bit of a chat with you before you submit it. However, they can’t be experts on all the information held by their authority so it can be worth asking to speak the person who deals with the information regularly. This has worked for me on several occasions.
4. Work out the format it is held in: Particuarly useful if you are after data. For example, it’s possible a council might refuse to release the top 20 streets for parking tickets on grounds of it being too expensive to analyse the information – so why not just ask for the raw data in a format they can create easily, such as an excel spreadsheet. This reduces the time it will take to process. Another good example of this is asking the police to run searches on the number of crimes in which a certain phrase was mentioned – eg Buckfast.
5. Make sure the information isn’t already in the public domain: FOI should be a last resort, not a starting point. Nothing screams lack of knowledge about a subject more than clearly not being aware of what is freely available anyway.