By Louise Walsh
Meath Co. Council has issued body cams to a number of its waste enforcement officers in a range of measures to protect staff from threats and intimidation.
The council says it expects to expand the initiative to other inspectors in areas such as Environment and Planning in future months as "a deterrent and essential protection" for staff.
The local authority also equips employees with 'lone worker devices' which tracks the movements of often solo roles, such as water caretakers and planning enforcers and alerts a central control system if there is a long period of inactivity.
The alarm is also sounded if the 'man down' function activates when the small device suddenly falls from a vertical to horizontal position with no further movement detected.
Drones are also being used by the council to survey inaccessible or large sites but also where it is considered too dangerous by an inspector to enter an area.
The measures are part of the council's duty or care towards staff, who have on a small number of occasions suffered threats of violence, confirmed the Council's Director of Services Kevin Stewart.
"We carry out hundreds of inspections every year and the vast majority of them happen without incident," he said.
"Unfortunately, there are a small number of occasions where our staff are subject to verbal intimidation and even threats of violence and we see body cams as a deterrent and an essential protection for inspectors."
As well as body cams, drones and lone worker devices to protect staff, the council's safety measures also provide training in dealing with violence and aggression, working in pairs or large teams and even, on occasions, carrying out inspections accompanied by the gardaí.
"As an employer, we have a duty of care to our staff and we are responsible for their health and safety," explained Mr Stewart.
"However, we also have a statutory duty to enforce the law in certain areas and that's where we sometimes encounter situations that require us to provide protection for staff.
"Meath Co. Council regards the use of technology more as a deterrent and believes that people may think twice about what they say and do if they see that there will be recorded evidence of what happened.
"While incidents of verbal intimidation are unfortunately becoming more common, actual physical assaults on staff are still, thankfully quite rare.
"However, where they occur we will not hesitate to support our staff and to use all the evidence at our disposal to assist the Gardai to take the necessary action in these cases," he concluded.