As for plastic vs composite - plastic will tolerate a lot of abuse against rocks, beaches, sand, parking lots, kids, logs etc. A plastic boat is pretty hard to destroy.
Epic and most light weight layups use a Composite Sandwich structure (which means a layer of cloth on each side of a core material like foam or composite honeycomb) .
Sandwich layups are rather prone to puncture against sharp things, and need to be babied. The heavier layups (like Epic Performance) will take some moderate abuse, but nothing near what plastic will take. Moderate meaning light bumps against things, but no hard impacts and nothing sharp. Lightweight layups (like Epic Ultra) need to be babied and you should basically never run them into anything, rocks, logs, shore, parking lot, roof rack, etc. There is a pretty good chance you will puncture the hull if you run an Epic Ultra up on the rocks. A bump wont kill it, but I would vertianly take care to avoid hitting anything in my control.
As for rescue, some do, some dont. Personally I am in love with waves. the biggest wave I can find (usually). This means I swam early and often in my paddling career, and still do all the time. How much you value safety or practice rescue depends on your intended conditions, overall skill, and tolerance for risk. Technically everyone should practice deep water rescue semi regularly, because if you spend enough time on the water eventually you’ll be in it unexpectedly. You’re in much better shape if you have a recovery plan before you need it.
I paddle surfski because I like open ocean wave riding. Surfskis are specifically designed for this and consequently they are SOT style. A competent paddler could be every bit as safe in big conditions in a Sit In kayak(SinK) but I would contend they would have to be more skilled to achieve the same safety margin as a SOT because a SinK requires a roll or wet exit/reentry to recover. A SOT you just climb back on.
Most people prefer SOT for warmer weather and safety margin. Many people prefer SinK’s for colder weather or long term comfort (there is no back support on a Ski unlike a SinK seat with back band).
Basically, safety is one benefit to SOT boats, but one could contend there are tradeoffs to that (colder, wetter, no back support, inability to roll, limited gear storage). So there is no right answer here, its just what you prefer or which tradeoffs drive your decision.