Derbyshire Police Federation

Look after your back: pay attention to your body armour

5 October 2021

The Police Federation is raising awareness of the health risks associated with the incorrect use of body armour during nationwide BackCare Awareness Week 2021.

The Federation’s successful Back to Basics initiative highlighted ways to prevent back problems linked to body armour earlier this year but wellbeing leads say there is still lots to be done.

Derbyshire Police Federation chair Tony Wetton said: “The importance of using body armour properly cannot be overstated.

“It is an absolutely vital piece of equipment that saves lives but it can also lead to health problems like bad backs and neck strains if it isn’t worn correctly and taken off when not required.

“Back, neck and shoulder injuries are potentially career-ending so the Police Federation is keen to raise awareness of the possible health impacts of body armour and we would urge all our members to make sure they’re up to date with the latest advice and best practice.

“No one wants to suffer with a bad back so our members should take a minute to think about how they use their body armour and if there is anything they could be doing to minimise the risk to their health.”

Body armour is an essential piece of personal protection equipment (PPE) which saves lives. It can be cumbersome, and the addition of other items of kit can have a significant impact on back, shoulder and spine.

The first Home Office Body Armour Standard was written in 1993 and forces began to make it mandatory in the late 1990s which means there are near 30-year veterans who have been wearing it for three decades. 

The Police Federation’s National Body Armour Working Group works closely with the National Police Chiefs’ Council and other policing organisations to ensure it is at the forefront of any advances in this area of PPE and has campaigned for better coverage for many years.

It has commissioned a study looking at the impact on female officers and the best bras to wear under body armour and is awaiting the outcome of this important research.

National wellbeing lead Belinda Goodwin recently attended Human Factor Testing of Generation 3 body armour, which featured colleagues of all ages and sizes, and was administered by Greenwich University. 

She believes – particularly due to the increased levels of violence faced by police officers – this could be a game changer.

Belinda said: “Although nobody should expect to be assaulted while doing their job, the reality for any police officer is different.

“The Gen 3 body armour should be rolled out next year, and although the human skeleton is not built to regularly carry any kind of heavy weight, we hope this will provide better cover, be more flexible, less weighty, and the weight will be better distributed.

“Members fully deserve the very best protection money can buy – and Gen 3 is a welcome advance to the body armour currently provided to police officers.”

National Board lead for operational policing Steve Hartshorn said: “We have been working with experts from Flint House, the Police Treatment Centres (Harrogate and Auchterarder) and the North-West Police Benevolent Fund to share ways to help ease the strain.

“We are also working with forces to remind them of their responsibility to look after officers’ welfare and encourage good practice around body armour care, storage and checks following damage.

“We really need them to implement mandatory refitting every year – particularly for colleagues who return to work following long periods away from work or wearing uniform.

“As a former firearms officer, I personally know the importance of properly storing body armour correctly. Colleagues need the correct storage for their armour, so they can hang this correctly and be ready to be used for the next shift.”

A series of videos has been published on the BackCare Awareness Week 2021 website and can viewed by clicking on the links below:

 

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