Protecting Britain's security guards with stab vests
Chris Taylor, an expert in protective clothing at SafeGuard, examines the role of stab vest protection to increase the safety of Britain's security guards.
Security guards may face aggressive individuals from time to time. Depending on the environment they work in, the risks will vary: guards stationed in a shopping centre prone to high rates of theft are likely to encounter shoplifters, whether troublesome youths or inebriated career-criminals carrying knives; others, patrolling business sites, may be required to chase off vandals or thieves attempting to break into offices over night to steal computer equipment.
Throughout 2014, several attacks on security personnel have made the news. In November, two G4S guards were attacked – one stabbed – by three men, before they managed to lock themselves in their cash van. In March, a security guard received four stab wounds to the hand with a hypodermic needle , as he tried to stop a suspected shoplifter leaving a Lidl store; he faced a six-month wait to discover whether he'd contracted a disease from the needle. In February, armed thieves stabbed a security guard as he filled a cash machine at a Liverpool university , leaving him with minor injuries but, no doubt, severe mental scars.
These are just three stories but each highlights just how dangerous security guards' work can be. To help them stay as safe as possible, security personnel need two things: comprehensive training on handling threats, and high-quality protective clothing. Many companies offer the former, but how do personnel find the right clothing to help protect them from the threats they expect to encounter?
Stab Vests and Anti-slash Accessories
Of the many types of bullet proof vests available, stab vests continue to be popular amongst professionals in the security and law enforcement sectors. Otherwise known as 'edged blade armour', stab vests are designed to apply friction to blades of various sizes, with multiple layers of tightly-woven Kevlar protecting the wearer. Manufacturers produce vests in three levels, each one covering specific amounts of energy used in an attack. Security guards working in an environment with a history of ferocious stabbings with large weapons – machetes, for example – should wear the highest level, while personnel based in very low-crime venues may find adequate protection in the lower levels. Their construction defends against attacks made in slashing and stabbing motions.
Many stab vests also offer spike protection, with a Kevlar weave tight enough to trap pointed tips. For example, should a shoplifter pull a hypodermic needle on a guard, the vest will stop the spike passing between the fibres, as it would in standard clothing. Spike protection may also offer defence against other improvised weapons, such as domestic items sharpened into points.
Security guards may want to wear anti-slash gloves and wrist protectors, for added security against attacks aimed elsewhere from their torso. As one of the above stories illustrates, thieves may strike the hands as staff try to restrain them, with potentially catastrophic results – if that guard had worn gloves, the needle may not have reached his skin, saving him that six-month wait for results. Most manufacturers offer a wide range of these accessories, with gloves of various types and protection levels. These are generally priced fairly, and can prove essential should you find yourself in a hostile situation.
How Visible should Armour Be?
Stab vests can be worn over or underneath clothing, to suit the specifics of a guard's current assignment. For some tasks, personnel may be required to wear smart clothing – a suit, a shirt-and-tie combo – for escorting VIPs, or for patrolling a large corporate event. In these cases, wearing armour over a formal outfit is unsuitable, and so a covert stab vest will be the best option: these are worn underneath other layers, with thinner, more lightweight materials, and breathable fabrics for comfort over prolonged use. Covert armour may also suit guards wearing uniforms, if their employer prefers a more subtle approach.
In other situations, body armour may help personnel looking to convey a high level of vigilance and preparation for all eventualities; such high-visibility may help to deter potential troublemakers. Overt vests are the standard type people may have seen on police officers and armed security guards at airports: bulky, often with pockets for carrying radios or additional gear. Depending on the type of clothing worn underneath, and the level of protection the vest offers, overt armour may become hot and uncomfortable during extensive wear. However, the security and peace of mind they provide should outweigh any potential negatives.
While security firms may have no legal obligation to purchase stab vests on their employees' behalf (some may even prohibit it), guards should be willing to pay for their own armour. Vests at the higher levels can prove more expensive than some may expect, but the cost should never discourage security personnel from equipping themselves with the stab protection they need.