30 May 2023
Belinda Goodwin, National Board member and Wellbeing lead discusses her experience as a serving female officer in body armour designed for men.
For the first time in the history of UK policing, standard issue body armour available to all police officers has been made to gender specific design with increased protection without compromising on comfort.
Since becoming a mandatory part of the everyday uniform in the mid-1990s, the body armour has protected police officers in various roles and undoubtedly saved many lives. Advancement in technology and availability of high standard material has significantly improved the protection offered by the body armour.
What was once heavy, uncomfortable and cumbersome, has now become lighter and more flexible to wear whilst adding layers of extra protection. However, it is only now in 2023, that the body armour has really been brought into the 21st century by having both male and female design variations.
Such a simple and obvious design innovation will significantly improve the work environment for more than 35 per cent of officers in England and Wales. What may have been considered too trivial for serious consideration up until now, had significant health and well-being implications mainly for female officers.
The Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) spoke to National Board Member and Wellbeing lead, Belinda Goodwin, who is also a Met police officer and Region 8 representative, to share her experience of the body armour over the span of her 20 years’ career. Excerpts:
“Having joined policing in 2002, the body armour was already standard uniform and handed to me as part of my everyday kit. I remember putting it on, and the first thing that hit me was its weight. I thought it must be alright for my male colleagues, but for me it felt heavy. And then the experience of doing this thing up and my chest being completely flattened. But like other officers in the job, I just got on with it and accepted that this was to keep me safe and protected. Comfort was a reasonable sacrifice and did not factor into any part of this Personal Protective Equipment.
“Unfortunately, I went on to develop a fistula in my right breast and I had to undergo an operation to remove it. I was then redeployed and did not need to wear the body armour until 2008.
“I developed, unfortunately, another fistula in 2010 which required yet another operation. Was this a coincidence or was there an issue with the pressure the body armour was putting on my breasts? It was a genuine concern and a matter of worry for me.
“To try and answer this, I took my body armour to my consultant to seek his opinion, and rightly so he could not confirm that this was the cause of my condition due to the restriction and the pressure. But he said he did not see how this could help with my condition and may have been a contributing factor.
“When I was due to go out in the field operationally again, I contacted our uniform suppliers in the Met and asked if I could have a female shaped body armour? But I was told that at the time it was only available to our firearms officers, so that was that. I carried on and put up with the pressure and having numb breasts every time I wore the body armour. I did what I always advocate officers should not do and bit my lip. I suffered in silence and got on with the job.
“Fast forward to my role on the PFEW National Board, I have been involved in the National Body Armour Working Group, and I have been adamant that any new body armour which is being created should be fit for both female and male body shapes and sizes.
“With the 3rd generation body armour, which is now available, this is exactly what we have, and I am so very proud to have had an input into this innovative new body armour.
“We now have something that appreciates and moulds to the female body shape, whether you are big or small chested, this is a game changer. It is lighter in weight, which is also a bonus, especially when considering it has improved Supplementary Knife Resistance or increased knife protection.
“We can never prioritise safety over comfort, but in the 21st century why cannot we have both? And this is the best body armour which we are going to see created certainly for the next at least five years.”