The Police Federation is highlighting back pain and health issues surrounding the use of body armour this week as part of BackCare Awareness Week 2021.
The Federation’s successful Back to Basics initiative helped raise awareness of ways to prevent back problems linked to body armour earlier this year but wellbeing leads say there is still work to be done.
Cambridgeshire Police Federation chair Liz Groom said: “The health and wellbeing of our members has always been a top priority so it is right that the impact of wearing body armour remains high on the agenda.
“It is an essential piece of equipment which can save lives but it has to be used properly or can cause back, neck and shoulder problems.
“So we advise our members to follow the guidelines and keep up to date with best practice so they can use the equipment effectively and minimise the risk of causing any damage to their backs.
“No one wants to be off work with a bad back so I would urge our members to take all the available advice on board to avoid any future health problems.”
Body armour is a mandatory and 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 published in 1993 and forces began to make it mandatory in the late 1990s, meaning some long-serving officers 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.
It has commissioned a new study on 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 said 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 police officers are facing – this could be a generational 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: