Look after your back: Federation issues advice

Back pain and health issues surrounding the use of body armour are being highlighted by the Police Federation this week as part of BackCare Awareness Week 2021.

The successful Federation  Back to Basics initiative helped raise awareness of ways to prevent back, neck and shoulder issues associated with body armour earlier this year but Dyfed Powys Police Federation wellbeing lead Dai Gaskins says there is still more to be done.

Dai said: "There are few things worse than having a bad back so it’s really important that our members do whatever they can to prevent it.

"Wearing body armour is a fact of life for police officers but I want to remind our members it should be removed when it’s safe to do so.

"We all know colleagues who keep their armour on when they get back to the station to do a crime report and are still wearing it three hours later when they go out again.

"Wearing body armour when it’s not really necessary can have a massive negative impact on an officer’s health so I would encourage all our members to get into the habit of thinking about removing their body armour whenever it’s appropriate."

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 way back in 1993, and some forces began to make it mandatory in the late 1990s – which means there are long-serving officers who have been wearing it for many years. 

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 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: