Blunt force: do you know the hidden danger to security professionals?

According to Robert Kaiser, from PPSS Group, those working within the security industry are at risk of blunt force trauma. So, as a security professional do you know how to ensure you’re adequately protected?

Severe injuries and deaths resulting from blunt force trauma are some of the most common cases encountered by forensic pathologists. In fact, almost all transportation fatalities result from blunt force trauma. However, in recent years we came to learn that professionals working within the security industry are at particular high risk from suffering from such injuries.

Being hit by a solid object, such as a fist, foot, knee, elbow, iron bar, extendable baton, baseball bat, crowbar, brick, bottle, can, chair, fire extinguisher, to name but a few, or indeed being pushed hard against another solid object i.e. door, wall, floor, car or down a flight of stairs can all be deemed as realistic risks.

Force to be reckoned with
According to Wikipedia, blunt abdominal trauma (BAT) comprises 75 per cent of all blunt trauma and is the most common example of this injury.

The severity of such injury will be subject to the speed and force of the impact velocity, as well as size and weight of the object. The severity can range from a hardly noticeable bruise to serious internal haemorrhages, bone fractures, airway obstructions, airway rupture, ruptured organs, rapid internal bleeding and ultimately death.

Many security professionals might well be aware of the possible severity of injuries resulting from blunt force, however, following such an assault many will chose not to document and report it.  ‘Too much admin’, some may say, and ‘it’s part of the job’, others will state.

Powerful protection
These men and women will have a reasonable understanding of the most realistic risks and threats they face, and subsequently will have either been issued, or they will have themselves invested in a body armour top to gain appropriate protection.

However, we now know that the type of flexible body armour made from either an aramid fibre (i.e. Kevlar®) or a polyethylene (i.e. Dyneema®) will most likely not offer what I believe is sufficient levels of protection from this specific operational risk.

In the Middle East many countries may have banned protests, but it is this type of mass gathering for riots and demonstrations that will often test a law enforcement or security professional’s body armour capabilities. Their body armour may well offer high levels of protection from high velocity ballistic rounds, but only very limited projection from stones, bottles, bricks, and other objects hitting them.

In the security industry, the risk of being punched, beaten, kicked, or faced by someone throwing items at you is much higher than being stabbed or shot. Therefore, it is rather saddening to see that more than 99 per cent of body armour issued to domestic homeland security professionals offer insufficient protection from this specific risk.

The key objective of a good body armour must be to offer sufficient levels of protection from the most realistic threats and risks the wearer will face whilst on duty.

Know your risks
What are the most important criteria for you? The concealability, the weight, the thickness, or the level of protection from the risks and threats your risk assessment has identified?

For covert operatives or surveillance specialists, the concealability of a body armour might be of utmost importance. In such case the thinnest body armour might be the ‘best’ one, and the blunt force protection may have to become of secondary importance.

However, in general the most likely risk or threat you face daily, is also the one you should seek sufficient protection from.

To achieve the highest levels of protection from blunt force or impact injuries a body armour needs to be of a rigid structure, not of a soft/flexible structure.

Riot shields are based on the very same principal. A riot shield is a lightweight protection device, usually deployed by law enforcement units all over the world to protect them and others during riots, protests and mass disturbances. Constructed from a rigid material, they offer maximum levels of protection from attacks with blunt weapons and thrown projectiles.

Stay informed
Yet even knowing the importance of being suitably protected, how aware are you of the protection your own body armour offers? PPSS’s Technical Director, Colin Mackinnon has served 26 years in counterterrorism, cover operations and surveillance. During a recent online presentation to a large audience of security professionals he posed the question: ‘Does your armour protection against knife, spike, needle and blunt force trauma?’. Worryingly 55 per cent of those questioned did not know what level of protection their body armour provided.

The most in-depth research study on ‘blunt force trauma injuries’ or in more tactical terms ‘backface signature injuries’ sustained while wearing such body armour was produced by Marianne Wilhelm back in 2008: Injuries to law enforcement officers: The backface signature injury.

It has raised critical questions regarding the protection offered to police officers or security professionals wearing personal body armour, along with the current test methods used to assess the true performance of the armour. Some test results showed that in some, upon an assault the body armour’s deformations exceeded the national standard’s limits. Such increased deformation can lead to serious injuries we have mentioned earlier on. Injuries, which have occurred in the field over and over again.

Certified to protect
Although your body armour might be effective in stopping a bullet or knife, it might not protect you from the impacting energy during other types of assaults. You will only know if it is offering officially certified protection from this precise risk.

The most respected standard for body armour in relation to blunt force trauma protection is Germany’s VPAM (Vereinigung der Prüfstellen für Angriffshemmende Materialien und Konstruktionen) Standard, titled: Testing of Impact Resistance against Throwing and/or Striking Objects. The ratings range from W1 (the lowest) and W9 (the highest).

When buying body armour for you or your team it’s vital you can identify which body armour meets the health and safety standards required for the level of protection you need. Certification such as VPAM is one way to ensure you’re protected from an increasingly uncertain world.

About the Author
Robert Kaiser is the CEO and Founder of PPSS Group, a UK-headquartered company specialising in design, production, and supply of high-performance body armour. Robert and his senior team all have significant level of operational frontline experience in military, law enforcement or homeland security.
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