A pain in the neck ... hips and back

Addressing ergonomic challenges and what manufacturers are doing for duty gear comfort

"The most important thing is being able to alleviate the weight from impact points on the hip structure," adds Buis.

The definition of good ergonomics doesn't only address "pain," but can also center on comfort -- this can be a challenge to accomplish without the feedback and comments from end-users.

"Officer input and ... what they use on a daily basis is so much more important than a group of engineers sitting in a room. If they don't take the input of the officers ... I find it hard to believe that anybody could produce a product that's going to be conducive to their everyday wear and be useful to them," adds Robin Putman, engineering manager of Back Defense Systems.

Familiar with officer comments on his products, Cory Nykoluk, a designer with 5.11, sees ergonomics not just as interactions with the body, but how people interact with their tools and how they are being used. Exemplifying this, he explains that the company's Sidekick boot knife was specifically developed to work with the boot, moving the knife from the pocket to another region of the body altogether. The design places a large hole in the handle for easy locating.

"To understand ergonomics, you need to understand how the end-user is using the product -- watching, listening, and seeing the fine points of how a product is used on a day-to-day basis," says Nykoluk. He looks at what the customers need, and what they can actually verbalize. "You watch the operators fumble with a pocket, recognizing an issue they might not notice, finding a solution they might not know they need," he says.

In seeing some officers carry equipment in disarray, 5.11 developed its CAMS and SOMS (Carry All of My Stuff and Some of My Stuff, respectively) bags, which are designed to easily provide an officer's gear at his or her fingertips. For example, a new bag for the EMS industry includes what Nykoluk calls "stadium organization," with tiers and layers so medical services can see the contents of pockets as quickly as possible.

Returning to the hip, the 5.11 Thumbdrive holster provides specific ergonomic features such as a drop in offset to a holster to be more comfortable for female officers. The holster, not to be confused with a computer's USB memory stick, places the firearm lower and allows more space so the belt can be cinched in for proper firearm positioning. It features a thumb-activated release on top (thus the name) securing the firearm at all times.

Belting in

The industry has been charged with matching the typical equipment belt width standard, yet still providing ample comfort with adequate support in leather as well as nylon materials.

"The biggest thing is the foundation of a good belt ... that's what's supporting everything ... your foundation is your belt and that's what comfort is really going to come down to," says TJ Valentino, sales manager for Illinois-based Boston Leather.

Boston Leather has multiple models of its Sam Browne duty belt product, the standard meeting traditional width. The company uses a thicker piece of leather for its pant belt and that same leather for the Sam Browne, yet adds a second thinner piece as lining.

While personal preference may take a backseat to agency standards, which can mandate the type of belt an officer may have to wear, Valentino has seen a type of placebo effect with the choice of leather or nylon.

Nylon or leather, the goal ergonomic products strive for combines design, safety and comfort -- yet the end solution may ultimately be unique to all.

"If that's what you believe, then it works," he says.



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