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Body armour: Effective protection from hypodermic needles?

June 30, 2023  By Robert Kaiser

Hypodermic needles pose a serious and realistic threat to domestic frontline professionals, such as police, private security, prison or civil enforcement officers and paramedics.

Facing someone carrying any type of edged weapon can be classed as facing a “real problem”. Many of us know someone who has been stabbed, but who has also survived such an assault. Unless you’re facing someone who really knows what they are doing, there is a realistic chance of surviving the attack.

However, being attacked by a random person, someone who would be considered “unskilled”, who is waving a hypodermic needle at you and sticking it anywhere into your body, is of equal or even greater danger. This can indeed mean you are coming in contact with blood-borne pathogens such as HIV and Hepatitis C, and this can potentially and subsequently result in you altering your life expectancy. In my personal and professional opinion, this issue presents a realistic risk in today’s society.

There are many recorded incidents of HIV positive prisoners and criminals using a hypodermic needle as weapon, but an instance that jumps into my mind right away is when UK police officer Gemma Newman was stabbed with a hypodermic needle in her arm by shoplifter Grzegorz Pajak, who was claiming that he was HIV positive. Newman has since considered leaving front line policing due to “deep psychological distress”, a court heard. I am unsure about the outcome of this case.

Other reported incidents include:

  • “Boston man charged with armed robbery and assault with a hypodermic needle facing life sentence”
  • “Birmingham hypodermic syringe attacker has stabbed 11 women”
  • “Security guard stabbed with syringe in test wait”
  • “Dublin muggers bring terror to the streets with blood-filled syringes”
  • “Security guard pricked in neck with needle, Houston police say”
  • “Cheltenham supermarket security guard stabbed with needle during attempted theft”

It is my assumption that the arresting officers would be quite keen to understand their standard issued body armour is protecting them from such weapon.

Despite the opinion of many other experts, there are in fact needle resistance standards out there, which might not be designed to test body armour against but nevertheless can give professionals a very clear indication what level of needle protection a piece of personal protective equipment (PPE) offers.

The ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) has recently developed a new international standard, the ASTM F2878. This is a “Test Method for Protective Clothing Material Resistance to Hypodermic Needle Puncture”. This test-method evaluates puncture resistance of protective clothing materials which may include plastics or elastomeric films, coated fabrics, flexible materials, laminates, leathers or textile materials.

Please note that, of course, no single standard can replicate the real-life conditions in which a needle puncture takes place, but testing to such a standard must be seen as a good thing and will certainly eliminate some concerns a body armour wearer potentially might have.

The EN 388:2016 (Protective gloves against mechanical risks) is another available test. This is a test developed to verify the needle puncture resistance of gloves and has not been designed to test body armour, but it will indicate that a specific product or material has been tested against a recognized standard and that it has passed the test.

Arresting officers would be quite keen to understand their standard issued body armour is protecting them from such weapon.

In the world of body armour, it is widely accepted and respected that official SPIKE tests and subsequent successful “spike resistance certifications” are physical evidence that a body armour can withstand any type of hypodermic needle. In fact, such body armour can withstand many other tools/toys/weapons much more aggressive and stronger than a needle.

If I personally would have to wear any type of body armour, then I would prefer to know that an independent government authorized agency had had a look at it and states that it is offering such level of spike protection.

Robert Kaiser is the founder and CEO of PPSS Group.

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