Frequently Asked Questions
These are the questions our customers ask the most – we hope the answers will be of use to you too.
1.1 “One of our staff has had a knife/improvised weapon/gun pulled on them, or is concerned that they may have in future – what do I do?”
Carry out a risk assessment taking into account the risks – or threats - to your staff. This means the general threats in your local area (consult with the police) as well as the specific threats relating to the duties your staff perform. If a threat is identified, you should issue appropriate body armour. No body armour can protect from all threats - it is designed to protect from death or serious injury, whilst still being flexible and lightweight enough to allow your staff to perform their normal job roles.
1.2 “What standards should I look for to ensure my staff are properly protected?”
The UK Home Office sets the standards for body armour protection in the UK. Aside from the CE mark, the UK Home Office standards are the only thing you need to look for from a protection point of view. Simply calling something “body armour” or a “stab vest” does not mean it provides any protection - this is why the Home Office standards are essential. Other countries have their own standards (eg. NIJ for ballistic resistance in the US) but the Home Office standards are the only standards that apply in the UK.
Be VERY wary of body armour “made to” or ‘ tested to’ Home Office standards – it must be ‘certified to’ - tested and certified by the Home Office - ask for a Home Office certificate to be sure.***
1.3 “What’s the law relating to body armour?”
It is not illegal to buy or sell “stab vests” that aren’t certified by the Home Office – the onus is on the employer to ensure the protection is adequate. Every organisation has a duty of care to protect their staff under the Health & Safety at Work Act, and this includes issuing body armour for staff that are at risk. If an incident occurs where employees are not adequately protected, in addition to facing possible industrial tribunals and compensation, the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act allow for unlimited fine and publicity orders.
1.4 “What’s a “spike”? Do all stab vests protect from spikes?”
An attack from a spiked implement such as screwdriver, chisel, ice pick, “shiv” or similar improvised weapon could be more likely than a knife. They’re easier to obtain, and carry lesser legal consequences (if any) when found during as a result of a police search. Wherever there is a knife threat it is almost certain there will also be a spike threats, therefore it’s important to ensure that a stab vest has Home Office certification for spike threats (SP1, SP2 etc) as well as knives (KR1, KR2 etc).
1.5 “If a vest protects from knives and/or guns, it must protect from syringes, yes?”
No - it depends on the vest. There is no Home Office standard for syringes (the SP1 standard refers to spikes, not syringes). Because of the very fine needle point of a syringe, it will penetrate the majority of conventional body armour. Many stab vests with Home Office KR1 and SP1 certification can be penetrated by a syringe. To protect from this widespread and increasing threat, look for a supplier with specific syringe protection. Our armour WILL withstand hypodermic needle penetration.
1.6 “What is blunt trauma/impact based assault?”
Whilst knives, spikes and guns present a more serious threat of death or serious injury, blunt trauma (blows from blunt objects such as baseball bats, bricks, even fire extinguishers) are probably the most likely threat your staff will face. However, because bricks and similar objects are thrown, they can easily land where the vest does not cover, so it is important to choose a lightweight, flexible armour that allows your staff to easily manoeuvre away from trouble in, and make clear that blunt trauma protection does not make them invulnerable in confrontation. There is no Home Office standard for blunt trauma – as with syringe protection, look for a supplier that specifically includes blunt trauma protection.
1.7 “My staff are concerned that stab vests will be “too heavy,” what should I say?”
As a good employer, manager or health and safety advisor you will want to ensure the comfort of your staff - but without jeopardising their safety. You’ll want to protect staff at risk by issuing Home Office certified body armour. However, with current technology it isn’t possible to produce Home Office certified body armour that is as thin and lightweight as normal clothing. Like all management decisions, the best thing to do is look at the overall picture. If you research the Home Office certified armour (with syringe & blunt trauma protection if needed), as well as considering other comfort factors such as armour flexibility and heat control, you’ll be doing everything you can to ensure the comfort and safety of your staff. If you give your staff the information you find during your research, they’ll support your decision – after all, you want the same thing – their safety and comfort at work.
1.8 “Do stab vests have to be made to measure to be effective?”
No. The safest armour will fit closely around the body, but armour doesn’t need to be made to measure to provide adequate protection. 99% of wearers will fit in standard sizes S-3XL, and this is the way the majority of police forces in the UK issue their armour. For very tall wearers, it’s advisable to purchase armour with extra length to ensure the lower internal organs are adequately covered, and for wearers outside the standard S-3XL and some bigger busted women, sometimes ladies who require a ‘D’ cup fitting or larger, special sizes are necessary both from a comfort and protection point of view.
1.9 “I heard that rigid/hardened armour offers more protection?”
Wrong. In the 1980’s all body armour was rigid or “hardened” – making it uncomfortable and difficult to move in. Thankfully, technology has moved on to the extent that flexible armour is now available that provides equal or greater protection from all threats (including blunt trauma or body blows, where flexible armour has the advantage of dissipating the blow around the whole of the armour). We recommend a “try before you buy” approach – ask for a sample of any body armour you’re considering purchasing, to check for comfort doing everyday tasks for normal lengths of time such as sitting and standing, getting in and out of cars etc. Flexible armour will act like a sponge and soak up the trauma, whereas rigid armour will transmit the full force of the blow into the body.
1.10 “Do the armour panels have to be replaced after a certain period of time?”
The Warranty Period on our Fortis® KR1/SP1 stab and spike protective vests is 10 years, after which period of time it should be replaced.
Armour that is multi-purpose (that is, handgun, knife and spike resistant HG1/KR1/SP1 or higher) carries an initial 5 year warranty; after this period it can be checked and recertified for a further 5 years for a modest cost (similar to an MOT on a car) to give a total life of 10 years.
1.11 “I don’t understand why the armour panels have to be replaced after this period if they are not damaged”.
The armour panels have to be replaced after this period even if they are not damaged because the material used in the vest will, over time, degrade. Remember, these are PPE items and they may be called on to prevent serious and life threatening injury and be subjected to extreme trauma. Put another way, you would not speed around a race circuit at 200 mph on a high powered motorbike, knowingly wearing a 10 year old crash helmet that had been generally abused and mistreated.
We’re confident that if Fortis® armour that was older than the guaranteed period was involved in a situation, it would perform as expected…….but ‘confident’ wouldn’t stand up in a court of law if someone was injured.
We have a duty of care and a responsibility – as do our material suppliers – as do you -and we know that over a period of time the efficacy of the materials will tail off. That decay will be gradual, not seismic, but there WILL be a fall-off in performance. We build in to our calculations massive safety margins and, to cover everyone in the chain, from the raw material supplier right the way through to the end user, we (as do all reputable body armour manufacturers) stipulate a ‘best before’ date.
In a ‘worst case’ scenario, if an employee is seriously injured, or worse, whilst wearing armour in the normal course of their duties then you can be sure the Health & Safety Executive would quite rightly would take an extremely close interest – every aspect and element of the event would be subject to forensic examination and if it were to be found that the armour was beyond its ‘best before date’, the employer (and line manager) may face a charge of corporate manslaughter. Yes – this is ‘worst-case’ – but accidents are unpredictable events in terms of time and severity and body armour is a critical item of PPE equipment.
1.12 “My staff are starting to ask for new ones all though they are not due to run out until later this year (if they are due every 5 years.)”
Body armour doesn’t have to be replaced by law, we’re simply pointing out the possible consequences of a worst case situation and making you aware of the facts, but our advice would certainly be to change the armour packs after 5 years.
1.13 “We never changed them in the military, unless they had too many holes in them!”
Definitely not the case any longer! Fact: body armour is now checked after EVERY tour of duty and the authorities operate a critically controlled system of body armour and ballistic plate refurbishment.