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Notes on the observation of some shooting By John Mclean (GMB National Health and Safety Officer)

I haven’t seen a gun fired in anger since I was a child and watched farmers near my home shooting rabbits. In truth I tend to stay clear of guns these days as do most other (sensible) people.

However not everyone has this choice as we live in a society that increasingly appears to be turning to weapons as a means of getting what they want , particularly if its not theirs to start with.

Within GMB membership of G4S the obvious targets are those who handle valuable goods but there are growing concerns over attacks to members carrying out static guarding duties.

Recently on a quiet autumnal morning myself and Angus Groat found ourselves at a shooting club on the outskirts of Worcester under the careful eye of the Home Office to watch a demonstration of personal body armour.

First up was a health and safety briefing to ensure we fully understood the dangers of using live ammunition. This involved the issuing of ear defenders, clear guidelines on where to stand during the demonstration and an understanding that no one was to move forward after discharge until instructed to do so.

Then on to the demonstration itself. The first thing to examine was the “dummy” onto which the body armour was to be positioned. This was a rectangular metal frame with a “plasticine” skim front and back. This is used as it both demonstrates impact on the body from a projectile which doesn’t actually penetrate the body armour and is easy to mend if there is penetration so the demonstration can continue.

As I said I don’t know much about either guns or ammunition but it was clear from the array of weaponry on the table in front of the target that this was to be an extensive demonstration. The demonstration was carried out by a qualified marksman, firing from a distance of three metres. The ammunition was to be a mixture of different calibre bullets designed to demonstrate the differing capabilities of the various types of body armours on display. All the armour on display met the standards laid down by both the Police Scientific Development Branch (PSBD – Home Office) and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ – USA).

The first body armour was designed for use in “lower” risk situations, where lower calibre ammunition was in use. This was the HG1A KR1 which is certified to a certain level regarding bullet penetration and stab proof ability. This overt vest would be adequate for most situations and ably demonstrated this by resisting all attempts at penetration , except where , in a thousand to one chance, one bullet lodged in the vest from a previous shot was driven through the armour by a direct hit from another.

The second piece of armour was the top of the range, the HG2 KR1, and designed to be used to protect against higher calibre ammunition. This body armour is normally offered to Special Forces as it is designed for maximum protection and would not normally be used in a working situation.

Body armour with ceramic plates inserted was next to be demonstrated. This is designed for resisting high velocity rifle bullets, often found in siege type situations.
For this we had to stand at least 15 metres away from the target so as to avoid the bullet bounce back!

Lastly, and by no means least we saw the effects of knife, machete and bullet attacks on a covert stab vest. Obviously these are resistant to both stab and machete wounding but why use bullets, even low calibre bullets on body protection for which it was not designed? This was apparently to demonstrate the psychology of wearing body armour, which in truth is not that different to using any type of Personal Protective Equipment (ppe) in a workplace situation. Some of us when given ppe over exaggerate its potential in keeping us safe. ALL ppe has limitations, none more so than the inability of stab vests to stop a bullet. IN THE DEMONSTRATION THE BULLET WENT THROUGH THE FRONT AND EXITED THE BACK OF THE DUMMY! This is understandable as it is not designed to stop the bullet but a useful reminder of limitations inherent in equipment for which it was not designed.

So what are we to learn from all of this? As in all aspects of health and safety I like to return to basic principles, namely the risk assessment. As a risk assessment is designed to lay down as safe a system of work as possible there is a need, in following as far as reasonable practical, an evaluation of when and where types of body armour should be worn.

This will necessitate the use of two types of evidence. Firstly, and most obviously, real, or empirical evidence should be used. For example where, geographically are the most dangerous areas, where attacks have already taken place. These areas can be mapped and the decision made to issue armour requisite for the task based on this.
Secondly is there anecdotal evidence? That is are there particular jobs, or tasks, independent of the area they are carried out, in which the risk rises. This might include something as simple as working alone!

Wearing body armour is not liked by many GMB members for a combination of reasons. Perhaps it is too heavy or cumbersome, or perhaps it just implies an easier acceptance of personal violence. However we cannot escape that in some situations the wearing of body armour is necessary. Demonstrations on the effectiveness of body armour are useful in taking into account all the facts which need to be evaluated when assessing workplace tasks, BUT it is not a substitute for an effective risk assessment.

John McClean, 15th October 2007.

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