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Protection levels explained

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Whether you’re new to the world of body armour, or just need a recap on the protection levels available, we’ve put the below information together to help explain body armour protection levels, the law surrounding body armour and where to start on looking for what you and your staff might need.

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Body armour is a protective system, designed to protect the wearer from death and serious injury yet still be flexible and lightweight enough to allow them to do their job. No body armour can protect from all threats in all circumstances and there’s no such thing as “stab proof” – body armour is stab, spike or bullet resistant to a particular protection level.

The UK Home Office sets the standards for body armour protection in the UK. From a protection point of view, aside from the CE Mark, the Home Office Scientific Development Branch (HOSDB) standards are the only thing to look for. Be wary of body armour ‘made to’ Home Office standards – it must be tested and certified by the Home Office – ask for a certificate to be sure. 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.

It’s 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 to staff that are at risk. In addition, if an incident occurs where employees are not adequately protected, an employer can face industrial tribunals and compensation, and the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act allow for unlimited fines and publicity orders.

Home Office Standards for Knife and Spike Resistance
KR1 (Knife Resistance Level 1) and SP1 (Spike Resistance Level 1) are the levels of stab and spike protection recommended by the Home Office for general police duties.
KR2 (Knife Resistance Level 2) and SP1 (Spike Resistance Level 2) are the levels of stab and spike protection recommended by the Home Office for more dangerous police duties, such as armed patrol in higher risk scenarios, for example patrolling at airports or escorting prisoners.
The different levels refer to the number of Joules of energy from a knife (KR) and spike (SP) thrust that a vest can withstand, tested mechanically in Home Office laboratory conditions.
KR1 = 24 joules
KR2 = 33 joules

HG1 (Handgun Resistance Level 1) is the level of protection recommended by the Home Office for general police duties where handguns may be encountered. This protects from standard ammunition fired from short-barrelled handguns.

HG2 (Handgun Resistance Level 2) is the level of protection recommended by the Home Office for higher risk scenarios for tactical firearms teams, special forces operations and situations where submachine guns may be encountered. This protects against standard ammunition fired from long barrelled handguns, 9mm carbines and submachine guns.

Your risk assessment will confirm which level you need, but if you let us know your job role we can advise which protection level similar organizations and job roles take as a guide. Our most popular protection level for our customers is our KR1/SP1 level which is recommended by the Home Office for general policing duties, but this information isn’t a substitute for your own risk assessment – just a useful reassurance.

No, however, these are serious threats that need to be protected from. Because of its very fine needle point, a syringe will penetrate the majority of conventional body armour, and blunt trauma (from blunt objects such as baseball bats) is a frequent threat, so our body armour offers protection from spikes, needles and blunt trauma as standard.

There is no Home Office standard for syringe or blunt trauma protection and many stab vests with Home Office KR1 (knife) and SP1 (spike) certification can still be penetrated by syringes. To protect from these widespread and increasing threats, look for a vest with specific syringe protection, and if in doubt ask the supplier to visit you to demonstrate.

Yes. Body armour for civilian use falls under European Council Directive 89/686/EEC on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) which states that any armour sold to civilian users must be CE approved. Only Police and Military wearers are exempt from this PPE legislation.

NIJ IIIA and other NIJ standards are American standards which don’t apply to the UK market, which is regulated by the UK Home Office. UK organisations should purchase body armour to the appropriate HG, KR and SP Home Office standards.

As well as meeting the standard, it’s also key to ensure that body armour is comfortable. Key ways to ensure comfort are choosing lightweight armour, flexible armour, and armour with multiple adjustment points. We’ve put a few links below if you wanted to find out more:

  • Fitting and Measuring in 3 easy steps
  • Female Fit and Tall Fit Vests
  • Flexible vs rigid – what makes body armour comfy?
  • Body armour Lifespan, Maintenance and Care
  • Our Warranties
  • Our customers – how do I place an order?
male & female body armour