Plastic bullet injuries in Northern Ireland: experiences during a week of civil disturbance

J Trauma. 1999 Apr;46(4):711-4. doi: 10.1097/00005373-199904000-00026.


Background: Plastic bullets were introduced to Northern Ireland for riot-control purposes in 1973. Their use has been controversial, with a number of fatalities. In the week beginning July 7, 1996, some 8,000 plastic bullets were fired during widespread rioting.

Methods: Details of injuries attributed to plastic bullets were obtained retrospectively from patient notes for the period July 8 to 14, 1996, in six hospitals. A total of 172 injuries in 155 patients were recorded.

Results: Nineteen percent of injuries were to the face/head/neck, 20% were to the chest or abdomen, and 61% were to the limbs. Abbreviated Injury Scale scores ranged from I to 3. Forty-two patients were admitted for hospitalization, three to intensive care units. No fatalities occurred.

Conclusion: Plastic bullet impact to the abdomen or above may cause life-threatening injuries. Below this site, major trauma is unlikely.

MeSH terms

  • Abbreviated Injury Scale
  • Abdominal Injuries / classification*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Facial Injuries / classification*
  • Female
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Northern Ireland
  • Plastics
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Riots*
  • Thoracic Injuries / classification
  • Wounds, Gunshot / classification*


  • Plastics