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

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

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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