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Officer injuries are rising from hours in body armour, Fed warns


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Wearing body armour and full kit in cars designed for families is contributing to officer injuries, the Fed has warned.

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Date - 23rd June 2021
By - Chris Smith

Wearing body armour for long shifts and sitting in seats designed for average activity are putting officers at risk of serious injury, the Federation has warned.

The Federation says they need to factor in the impact of the total weight from armour, radios, Tasers and all their other kit plus where they are sitting.

Officers from across England and Wales are being referred to treatment centres with back, shoulder and neck pain, which could be caused by wearing body armour.

The Fed marked World Wellbeing Week by launching a self-help programme, Back to Basics, aimed at protecting the health of officers.

In partnership with experts from Flint House, North-West Police Treatment Centres (Harrogate and Auchterarder) and the North-West Police Benevolent Fund, there will a series of videos shared on social media providing advice.

But there also came a warning that managers can do more to help officers avoid injury.

National Board Lead for Operational Policing, Steve Hartshorn, said: “We get it; we’ve all been there. You’ve dealt with a job and you’re back in the car or at the station and you don’t take off your body armour. Maybe it seems a waste of time, as you’ll only have to put it on again. Or maybe you just forget that you’re wearing it.

“But that extra weight you’re carrying for no reason could be wreaking havoc with your back.”

The Fed has campaigned for protective kit to be available for all officers – especially given the record rise in assaults.

But research has revealed officers are now routinely carrying significant weight for prolonged perios of time.

Steve Hartshorn said: “Make no mistake about it, body armour serves a very important function and should absolutely be worn when it’s needed. The problem is wearing it when it’s not needed. The human skeleton isn’t built to carry around this amount of weight long-term and it could contribute to significant health issues.”

Compounding the problem is seating in vehicles and offices which have been designed for civilian use not people wearing metal plates.

The Federation’s Wellbeing sub-committee set up a body armour working group and found that not only were there problems with the weight of the plates used, but also the weight caused by what officers are carrying.

The treatment centres have responded with specialist classes to teach core and strengthening exercises to protect members’ backs and the Fed is promoting them through the Back to Basics programme.

“It really is about going back to basics and looking at what simple tweaks you can make at home or at work to help your back, neck, and shoulders,” Mr Hartshorn said.

But the Fed also signalled it will also remind forces of their responsibility to look after officers’ welfare.

It will be pushing for forces sharing good practice around body armour care, storage and checks after being damaged.

It’s part of a new focus on welfare that will also tackle fatigue issues: presenteeism, single-crewing, late placings on early rotas despite shifts over-running plus ensuring debriefings happen after incidents that can trigger trauma.

Force leaders have accepted that they are behind the curve on wellbeing after years of not accepting it needed to be an issue - and say they are catching up fast.

The Oscar Kilo initiative – and work by HR leads with the recovery centres – has made rapid progress.

To understand the extent of the problems, surveys by both the Fed and forces have been needed to capture the evidence, particularly around mental health.

But now the Fed says it’s time to move to practical work which can be done quickly by managers rather than waiting for top-down responses.

Welfare Secretary, Belinda Goodwin, told Police Oracle: “We keep doing these surveys but what are you tangibly doing? We’ve got to stop talking about it. Things like body armour and rest days are do-able.”

She added that the issues are critical for retention, particularly for the Uplift recruits.

Ms Goodwin added wellbeing also included preparing them mentally for the challenges they will face in their first roles.

She said: “It’s about us being honest with them. Do you know what you are signing up for? Have you got the mental resilience to cope with the job? Yes, you are going to be spat at. More than likely, you’ll be physically attacked. You’ve got to be prepared for that.”

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Would it not be prudent to take the stab vest off when driving, not needed? Or get out of the car more?

Plus braces over the shoulders from belt kit can help, it’s quite popular in some nations.

 

 

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1 hour ago, Wilts20 said:

Would it not be prudent to take the stab vest off when driving, not needed? Or get out of the car more?

Plus braces over the shoulders from belt kit can help, it’s quite popular in some nations.

 

 

Are you expecting there to be time to get Body armour at the time of an incident?

 

If so that’s as impractical as having firearms in the police station and other such nonsense. 

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I remember being issued mine in the 90’s. Cumbersome, heavy and I’ll-fitting. I shoved it to the bottom of my locker and that’s where it stayed. I’m not suggesting for a minute that they are useless. However, if you’re going to wear PPE all day then it should be comfortable, not too heavy and not cause you discomfort or injury. Back to the drawing board on this one I think? 

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3 hours ago, Wilts20 said:

Would it not be prudent to take the stab vest off when driving, not needed? Or get out of the car more?

Plus braces over the shoulders from belt kit can help, it’s quite popular in some nations.

 

 

@Wilts20 +  Thats what we used to do for many years after the “body armour” was first issued. I was a special once and used to help out with public order/domestics etc on fri/sat night. It was quite a while before it was our turn to be issued the armour, initial cost so someone told me.

Most of the time it was put in the back seat the same as the cap, and kit bag . i can remmember plenty of occasions when we got a call to a disturbance,  we stopped and put it on, i suppose we were actually doing an “NDM” but didnt know we were doing it at the time. I suppose people can still do one when they arrive on scene .

 For quite a while we used the first waistcoat model, the one with the big zip up the front and decent pockets. This version i can say without the slightest exaggeration i could put on in ten or twelve seconds. Even though it was on the heavy side it was always my favourite type from future iterations.

I felt sorry for the regulars when the DCC decided that armour must be worn at all times, he was a very nice guy with plenty of practical experience so of course every one did as asked without question. 

On the subject of patrol cars not fit for purpose in the article i smiled when i read that. Very nearly fifty years ago we had a bobby who lets just say was a big guy. He drove a grey mini van to go to jobs around the countryside

i think at the time we had four of them at our station and five mini pandas, plus the GP estate and a couple of transits.

Ive told this story before but one day this PC had an almighty row with the superintendent in his office about how uncomfortable they were to drive and how it was wearing him out. Every one in the station could hear this “discussion”and i heard all about it later in every detail.  He was long in service and he was banned from driving police vehicles and for his last few years doing office work and other things. He loved it.

So there you have it, i must say that our station later bought decent sized vans that could go,i suspect that only happened when cages were introduced. Its a big, big subject but that will do me for now,ha. Rich.

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After 14 years of wearing armour every working day of my life I'm only in my early 30s but I suffer with lower back pain, it isn't so bad and I can put up with it. 

I have no doubt however it will get worse... 😂

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28 minutes ago, Dave SYP said:

I remember being issued mine in the 90’s. Cumbersome, heavy and I’ll-fitting. I shoved it to the bottom of my locker and that’s where it stayed. I’m not suggesting for a minute that they are useless. However, if you’re going to wear PPE all day then it should be comfortable, not too heavy and not cause you discomfort or injury. Back to the drawing board on this one I think? 

@Dave SYP + Our regs did take them out on patrol with them, at least when i was working 10-2 on the weekend, but as i say they spent most or all of the time in the back of the car/van just in case we got a mad axe person causing trouble.

Further to that i sometimes  spent the first hour or two on foot patrol with  regular before going mobile, what we both did then was put our vests in the big van in case we  needed it later on when the nightclubs kicked out. 

Sometimes i was in the big van, sometimes with traffic if they were singlecrewed and off at one. The one thing that was consistent was that no one wore the vest as a matter of course, they used it when they did a risk assessment on whether to put it on.

This went on for years and years. Rich.

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5 hours ago, Ether said:

Are you expecting there to be time to get Body armour at the time of an incident?

 

If so that’s as impractical as having firearms in the police station and other such nonsense. 

I was thinking more the likes of those not that busy, NPT officers going to non-urgent jobs, but by car etc. Surely they don't need to wear them in transit? 

I can imagine it's a faff.

I too think things like having firearms in cars is next to useless! 

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3 hours ago, Radman said:

After 14 years of wearing armour every working day of my life I'm only in my early 30s but I suffer with lower back pain, it isn't so bad and I can put up with it. 

I have no doubt however it will get worse... 😂

That's not great. Have you ever had cause to be wearing it during that time (for it's primary purpose)?

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28 minutes ago, Wilts20 said:

I was thinking more the likes of those not that busy, NPT officers going to non-urgent jobs, but by car etc. Surely they don't need to wear them in transit? 

I can imagine it's a faff.

I too think things like having firearms in cars is next to useless! 

How would you know if you need it tho? How many times a day do you think police are stopped just driving around? 
 

You also delay any response too in order to kit up. 

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1 hour ago, Ether said:

How would you know if you need it tho? How many times a day do you think police are stopped just driving around? 
 

You also delay any response too in order to kit up. 

Yes a lot I imagine.

Then again,  do CSOs need to have them on when doing a school visit on a summer's day to a primary school, 200 yards from the police station? What kind of image does that send? (Image in public domain).

May be an image of 1 person and outdoors

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25 minutes ago, Wilts20 said:

Yes a lot I imagine.

Then again,  do CSOs need to have them on when doing a school visit on a summer's day to a primary school, 200 yards from the police station? What kind of image does that send? (Image in public domain).

May be an image of 1 person and outdoors

PCSOs aren’t police officers, but at engagement events you have a point. 
 

There are plenty of events where police don’t wear body armour 

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2 hours ago, Wilts20 said:

That's not great. Have you ever had cause to be wearing it during that time (for it's primary purpose)?

I'd say twice its probably been on and needed when all is said and done. 

We didn't wear it routinely when I first started in BTP as culturally up north amongst the smaller stations it just wasn't the done thing, we'd wear our high vis utility vests over our shirts and ties... The armour would get left out in the office in case we needed to grab it, the older cops just didn't bother at all. The SOP even stated we didn't have to wear it unless out on an operation where it specifically stated to or it was football duties. 

With the various attacks in London and the rise in knife culture within Britain that policy was replaced and now we fall in line with the Home Office. 

 

Edited by Radman
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Where policing seem to differ from most occupations, is to review and risk assess the wearing of ppe and adopt an “always wear” approach.  Rather like you see an interview where they stand in the middle of a field whlist wearing a hard hat!!!!  
there are surely times when wearing the ppe could be reduced which in turn could help the wearer.  
 

Edited by BlueBob
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I wonder if any compensation claims have arisen from the injury caused to an officer by them wearing the vest? 

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