Law enforcement officers’ duty belts are designed to hold their weapons, handcuffs and other gear in place for easy access while allowing them to keep their hands free. A duty belt, when carrying everything it can hold, can weigh as much as 20 pounds.
That’s a considerable amount of weight to carry around for hours. It’s not uncommon for it to lead to injuries caused by the strain it places on the lower back, hips and throughout the lower extremities.
Can you reduce the strain of a duty belt?
Even sitting in a patrol car for hours every day wearing a duty belt can cause weakening of lower back muscles, which make them more prone to injury. Changing the position of the seat from time to time can reduce strain. So can watching how you get in and out of the car.
Finding ways to evenly distribute the weight of the equipment in the belt can help reduce its negative impact on the body. Of course, equipment like weapons that may need to be used at a second’s notice still must be where an officer can quickly reach them. Vests can be worn in addition to the belt that can hold some of the equipment.
Law enforcement agencies have an obligation to help prevent duty belt-related injuries – not just to keep their officers in better physical condition but to minimize time off that may be necessary for treatment or recovery.
A presumptive injury
The California Labor Code recognizes the risk of injury – particularly to the lower back — of wearing duty belts for anyone “who has been employed for at least five years as a peace officer on a regular, full-time salary and has been required to wear a duty belt as a condition of employment.” It states, “The compensation that is awarded for lower back impairments shall include full hospital, surgical, medical treatment, disability indemnity, and death benefits as provided by the provisions of this division.” Lower back problems are considered an injury “presumed to arise out of and in the course of the employment.”
When an injury is considered “presumptive” in a profession, it can be easier to obtain workers’ compensation benefits if medical treatment and/or time off of work is necessary. However, the presumption “is disputable and may be controverted by other evidence.” Therefore, if you have difficulty obtaining the workers’ comp benefits you need, it’s wise to seek legal guidance.