Understanding the Impact of Non-Lethal Projectiles: Balancing Safety and Security

Non-lethal projectiles including rubber bullets, bean bags, and pepper balls have become an increasingly utilized method of deterrence and containment for law enforcement, security, and military involved conflicts, with the goal being to reduce harm while effectively securing and diffusing volatile scenarios.

While non-lethal projectiles, as the name suggests, are less likely to result in fatalities, they are not without significant risk that warrants an in-depth understanding and continuous evaluation to ensure the safety of all parties involved during and after repayment.

Below, we’ll take a closer look at some of the most common injuries that result from the use of non-lethal projectiles, as well as preventative measures to be considered by those using such avenues in a professional context. Read on to learn more.


Understanding Non-Lethal Projectiles

Non-lethal projectiles, also referred to kinetic impact projectiles, are designed to incapacitate or deter individuals without causing fatal harm. They are often used in situations where the use of lethal force is neither necessary nor justified, and where the use of lethal force carries a far greater chance of collateral damage. Kinetic impact projectiles come in various forms, each with its unique characteristics and applications. Some of the most frequently used projectiles include:


Rubber Bullets

Most rubber bullets are made of rubber or plastic and are designed to be fired from specialized firearms. These bullets are specifically designed to disperse energy over a larger area, which reduces the risk of penetration and serious bodily harm.

Bean Bags

Bean bags are small fabric sacks filled with lead pellets that are designed to be fired from shotguns and deliver a concussive impact without penetration.

Pepper Balls:
 Pepper balls are projectiles filled with irritant agents like OC (oleoresin capsicum/pepper spray). The balls are designed to burst upon impact, which can serve as an effective crowd dispersal method without the use of excessive force.

Common Injuries Resulting from Non-Lethal Projectiles

It is important to note that, while each of these methods are designed to avoid significant bodily harm and reduce fatalities, they are not without the risk of injuries. Common injuries that may occur with the use of non-lethal projectiles include:

Bruising and Contusions

Due to the force behind the propulsion of non-lethal objects, and the fact that they typically strike a concentrated area, bruising and skin rupture is not uncommon. While, in most cases the bruises and contusions do not present any significant cause for medical concern, use in overly close quarters and/or poor aiming measures can result in serious injuries that could lead to long-lasting damage.

Eye Injuries

Eye injuries are a major concern when dealing with non-lethal projectiles. The head and face are high priority target areas as they increase the odds of neutralizing a violent threat. Eyes, however, are quite vulnerable to serious damage from force impacts, and those deploying projectiles should be aware of the increased risk presented by above neck targeting. 

Fractures and Bone Injuries

When fired from an appropriate distance, fractures and bone injuries are a less likely probability to result from non-lethal projectiles, however they are not an impossibility. Vulnerable areas like the skull or limbs may sustain minor (or even major) injuries from projectiles, and may require extensive treatment post incident.

Internal Injuries

Internal injuries are a rare occurrence, but remain a possibility when deploying non-lethal weaponry. Internal injuries can be particularly dangerous as they may not present until after an individual is already in custody, or has left the scene of deployment. It is therefore crucial for users to be aware of, and accountable for, the potential for internal injuries, even when dealing with seemingly non-lethal ammunition.


Preventing Collateral Damage: What Users Need to Know

To minimize the risk of injuries and avoid collateral damage when using non-lethal projectiles, users, including law enforcement and security personnel, must adhere to several important guidelines and best practices. Viable preventive measures include:

Proper Training

First and foremost, individuals who will be handling non-lethal projectiles should undergo comprehensive training that covers safe and effective deployment. Users must understand both the mechanics of the weapon/projectiles themselves, as well as the risks associated with use.

Targeting Lower Body

When feasible, projectiles should be aimed at the lower body or extremities. These areas offer a lower chance of serious injury in comparison to head or mid-body impacts.

Maintaining a Safe Distance

As indicated above, the distance between a deployer and the intended target can have significant influence on the potential for injury. Close-range shots are far more likely to result in serious damage, and thus users should be mindful of close-quarter variables and reserve such weaponry for longer range scenarios wherever possible.

In order to determine the median safe distance for each specific type of projectile, rigorous testing must be performed and results should inform best use practices for subsequent applications.

Using in Crowd Control

Non-lethal projectiles are primarily designed for crowd control and should be used as a last resort failing the success of other forms of de-escalation. Law enforcement, military, and other agencies using non-lethal weaponry must have established protocols and thresholds to be met before use of such measures are deemed acceptable.

Immediate Medical Care

Users must be prepared to provide immediate medical care to injured individuals both on-site and following their being taken into custody. This includes calling for medical assistance and administering basic first aid whenever necessary and offering access to acute care for individuals who may have sustained serious bodily harm during a confrontation.

At Biokinetics, we are proud to offer extensive testing for the safe use and deployment of non-lethal weaponry and projectiles including penetration, blunt trauma and targeting assessments. Based in Ottawa, Ontario, we believe that accurate data and knowledge is essential to the creation of reliable standards and safekeeping measures that help everyone stay safe and avoid harm during high-conflict scenarios.


Contact us today to learn more about our testing and evaluation services!