Acid attacks: How to prevent a very real threat

It’s not something we want to talk about. An attack that causes serious harm to lots of people is the worst fear of any venue owner.

But we have to face the fact that acid attacks are a very real threat.

The UK has one of the highest acid attack rates in the world, with the number of these crimes surging by more than 500% between 2012 and 2016.

The attacks can be devastating and life-altering. Or in the case of Joanne Rand in 2011, life-ending.

If a person is intent on doing harm, venues such as nightclubs, sports grounds, shopping centres etc are unfortunately an ideal venue for acid attacks. When rooms are full and people distracted, victims find it harder to defend themselves. It’s also much harder to identify the perpetrator.

In 2017, Arthur Collins was sentenced to 20 years in prison after he sprayed acid in a London nightclub, injuring 22 people. On the night, he managed to evade suspicion after the incident and was even reported to have continued to drink, dance and send pictures via Snapchat.

It was only when CCTV pictures were analysed that Collins was identified.

Very recently, action has been taken by the government and retailers to prevent these attacks. This includes not selling the substance to under 18s and increasing sentences for those carrying acid on multiple occasions, or carrying with intent.

However, the changes don’t go far enough. It is still perfectly legal to carry acid.

And the definition of the crime is still more lenient than other weapons; stabbing someone is classed as attempted murder whereas use of acid is only GBH.

In this article, we’re going to look at the measures you should be taking to prevent an acid attack in your venue and how to limit the damage if one does occur.

Which types of acid are used in attacks

One of the main problems with preventing an acid attack is that acid is so widely used in everyday life.

Sulphuric acid, for instance, is used as drain cleaner by people doing domestic cleaning. It just so happens that it also has the capacity to cause severe burns and dissolve skin and bones.

Sulphuric, along with nitric acid is the most devastating, but hydrochloric acid or ammonia, which are found in common household products, are still toxic.

The acids are perfectly legal over-the-counter products. However, shops are duty-bound to report any suspicious purchase.

Preventative measures

Here are a few examples of the preventative measures business owners can take to prevent an acid attack.

Door searches

No one likes being frisked on the way into a venue. It doesn’t set the right tone for a good entertainment or shopping experience.

But it’s much better to put up with a full body search for 10 seconds than deal with a lifetime of pain and discomfort from an acid attack.

Door searches should specifically look for people bringing containers into the venue, as well as usual offensive items such as knives or drugs.

Question suspicious clothing

When you’re admitting people to your venue or place of work, question whether the clothes they’re wearing are appropriate for the situation. If they’re not, why not.

For instance, if you run a nightclub, and someone tries to enter wearing a large coat, you have every right to be suspicious. Why would someone want to wear such a thick item of clothing into a warm venue?

One reason might be because it’s easier to conceal offensive objects in thicker clothing.

Similarly, if someone enters wearing a baseball cap, chances are they’re not keeping the sun from their eyes. But there is a chance they’re wearing the cap to hide their identity.

Be careful; suspicion because you don’t like the way someone is dressed is discriminatory.

Active security presence

Having numbers is merely a box-ticking exercise.

Your security must be active and efficient, making sure that they’re aware of anyone acting suspiciously or in an aggressive manner.

Remember that acid is the weapon of choice for people who want to do the most amount of damage with the least chance of retribution. They’re harder to spot, but they’re more likely to be put off by a strong security presence.

What to do in the aftermath of an attack

Water, water, water

Acid will not dilute, it has to be completely washed off the body. To do this, you need to continuously apply large amounts of water for at least 20 mins. Experts say you should use at least 40 to 60 litres of water per wound.

Call the emergency services

Flooding the wound and stopping the burn is vital, but someone should immediately call the emergency services. Because acid doesn’t dilute, even the water used to wash the acid away will contain acid. Anyone at the scene should have proper training and proper protective gear. For mass-scale attacks, only firefighters can realistically provide the amount of water required.

Cut off clothes

Acid doesn’t differentiate between skin and clothes. It attaches itself to whatever it can find. If acid has gone on your clothes, it’s only a matter of time before it burns through and onto your skin.

All clothes should be cut away to avoid further burns.

Evacuate the area

It’s impossible to tell where acid is if it’s a clear liquid. That means that if the area isn’t evacuated, it could attach itself to shoes, clothing or personal items. After an acid attack, the area should be completely cleared to allow the emergency services to do their jobs.

The Insurance Part

Sticking to your risk management duties is one thing, but most businesses will follow the above advice regardless of their insurance commitments. That’s because they care about their customers.

But there are repercussions of acid attacks that proper insurance cover must take into account.

In the event that a copious volume of water is used to deal with the acid attack, you would have a saturated premises which would need to urgent attention by an appropriate ‘disaster restoration company’. They would set to safely removing and disposing of the water/residue/affected items and then dry out the damaged property, after which it would be restored. All of this should be covered under a Material Damage policy item particularly an All Risks policy wording, which covers Accidental loss, destruction or damage unless otherwise excluded.

From a public liability point of view, you have an obligation to create a safe space for your customers. You can’t be held responsible for the actions of an attacker, but you might be liable if you didn’t do enough to stop them.

Acid attacks are getting more and more common. Acid as a weapon should be treated with the same seriousness as knives or guns.

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