Sprained ankles. Back pain. Knee strains. Needle sticks. Vehicle collisions.
Law enforcement officers are subject to a number of potential injuries on the job. Some factors are uncontrollable. But there are a number of ways officers can prevent injury – or reduce the potential severity of injuries.
“Younger officers with less than seven years of experience are more prone to injury because they’re more active,” said Troy Pitcock, law enforcement specialist for Kentucky League of Cities’ Insurance Services (KLCIS). “Older officers’ injuries are more likely to be expensive.”
KLCIS tracks injuries for its municipal clients and works together with police departments to offer prevention techniques for a variety of potential risks. In its Claims Awareness bulletin, KLCIS reports injuries relating to arrests, cuts, exposures, falls, strains and training. The August 2018 published report showed exposures as the leading cause of law enforcement injuries at 33 percent of all injuries reported.
Exposure injury claims spiked in 2017, but 2018’s numbers are a little more than half of what were reported during the previous year.
“According to a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, one in 50,000 officers in the United States is killed by a firearm, while one in three will suffer a wound from a syringe,” Pitcock wrote in a KLCIS article about law enforcement needle sticks. “A contaminated needle can expose an officer to HIV or hepatitis A, B and C. It is estimated that 60 to 80 percent of injection drug users have hepatitis C.”
Pitcock offered a variety of recommendations for needle-stick prevention, such as not recapping needles, placing needles in a sharps container and ensuring all vaccines are up to date. He also suggests adding a portable hand wand to officers’ equipment.
“The wand goes in the (suspect’s) pocket, you twist it, and it pulls out of the pocket so you don’t have to reach in there and get stuck,” Pitcock said.
Strains and Sprains
The second highest type of injury reported in 2018 are those caused by slips and falls.
“Especially in adverse weather conditions like snow and ice, not having the proper footwear can lead to injury,” Pitcock said. “A lot of officers are injured in foot pursuits, slipping and falling while chasing somebody, hitting the ground, those kinds of things.”
In the KLCIS Law Enforcement Safety and Liability Review, Pitcock said a section relating to falls is included. KLCIS encourages officers to wear shoes with slip-resistant soles and to add traction devices for snow and ice that fit over the shoe soles. Departments should have a foot pursuit policy and include yearly training on slip and fall issues.
Falls often lead to strains and sprains. Especially when an officer’s muscles are cold from driving a cruiser and then he or she gets out on a call that requires them to be physical. Pitcock said KLCIS recommends a simple stretching program officers can use to keep their muscles limber during their down time.
KLCIS also tracks training injuries, and Pitcock said strains and similar injuries also occur with the recruits.
“More and more recruits are showing up for their basic training academy out of shape, which leads to injuries,” Pitcock said. “They haven’t done what they should do to be in shape when they get there.”
The recruits should be encouraged to think beyond passing the Peace Officer Professional Standards physical exam, and begin thinking about their overall health – especially before entering the physically-demanding academy. Training injuries for seasoned officers attending in-service have been reduced utilizing the Training Safety Officer program, Pitcock said.
“We are a big proponent of the TSO program,” he said. “In the Safety and Liability Review, we recommend all departments utilize a training safety officer for any kind of defensive tactics or firearms training in particular.”
Check Your 6 Basics
The Department of Criminal Justice Training has encouraged officers to practice “Check Your 6,” an initiative reminding officers about the core tenants of staying safe on the street: wear your vest, wear your seat belt, slow down, practice situational awareness, maintain your physical fitness and have respect.
In the International Association of Chiefs of Police study, “Reducing Officer Injuries,” two of those issues – seat belts and body armor – showed a significant impact on the amount of work missed following an incident.
“Officers wearing their seat belts during a vehicular crash missed an average of five fewer days compared to those who did not,” the report states. “Officers who reported wearing body armor while sustaining an injury missed fewer work days than those who did not.”
Preventing injuries is important for individual health, but it also is important for both the officer’s and department’s bottom line. The IACP study was conducted over one year with 18 participating national agencies. During that year, 1,295 injuries were reported.
Those injuries led to:
5,938 work days missed
$1,211,352 (estimated) lost due to injuries
$1,817,028 (estimated) lost due to added overtime assignment costs
As a result of the study, the IACP offered multiple recommendations to law enforcement agencies to prevent and/or mitigate officer injuries.
Those recommendations are:
Develop injury reduction efforts for at-risk officer groups
Incorporate advanced arrest procedure and tactics training, as well as use-of-force training, in academy and in-service curricula
Implement mandatory seat belt policies and address speed and pursuit policies
Implement physical fitness programs and nutrition education programs for officers
No one wants to be injured, but sometimes taking shortcuts, like not wearing a seat belt, can be life altering. Make individual safety and physical health a priority to prevent serious loss.