Due to the increase in the amount of equipment which members are required to wear in the course of their duties, the Executive raised concerns with HMPPS regarding the potential for Musculoskeletal injuries surrounding the use of utility belts. The POA pointed out that;

  • Members felt the utility belt was causing discomfort which has led to an injury.
  • Members reported it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep items in a position which they could be easily accessed.
  • Members are worried the increased equipment plus the weight of equipment has begun to cause aches and pains at the end of a long shift.

Optima Health were commissioned by HMPPS to undertake an ergonomic assessment which included stakeholder engagement, equipment assessments, data collection, previous research and structured interviews with prison staff.

HMPPS have decided they will issue all members who carry equipment with a leaflet which details how equipment should be spaced on the belt to aid in carrying the equipment safely, however the equipment will move once the member becomes mobile which we believe does not remedy the problem.

Contained in the leaflet will be a series of exercises which are supposed to alleviate aches and pains, but no time will be given to members to do the exercises during work hours.

The Executive believe this approach will not address the concerns raised regarding potential Musculoskeletal Disorder issues now and in the future due to long-term wearing of the utility belt and the excessive weight contained on it.

There appears to be a reluctance by HMPPS to introduce suitable carrying aids to keep you our members safe from Musculoskeletal injury in the workplace which we believe will develop in time if this is not addressed by your employer.

The Executive believe the employer is putting cost before your health and wellbeing.

Immediate Intervention

We would advise those members who have reported an injury to their back, shoulders, hips, knees, ankles or feet should ask to be referred to occupational health to be reviewed by a MSK specialist. Our members should ask to be provided with alternate carrying aids to assist them to continue to work and facilitate the management of their ongoing health and wellbeing within work. We would also advise members to enter this into the accident book and seek legal advice for a potential personal injury.

Interim Intervention

Those members who report ongoing discomfort from the utility belt and the weight of the equipment after a shift should also report this as a near miss accident and request this be entered onto their OH file.

The Executive also advises all members required to carry equipment which they consider to be excessive and have concerns over their future health and wellbeing regarding Musculoskeletal injury to;

  1. Request an OH referral to a MSK specialist to ensure they are safe from harm to carry the equipment their employer needs them to carry and,
  2. Enter a near miss report into the accident book.

Please bring this circular to the attention of all members.


Yours sincerely


Deputy General Secretary

Representing over 30,000 Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers, the POA is the largest UK Union in this sector, able to trace its roots back more than 100 years.