Be ice safe: bring a helmet to the ice rink

Gliding across the ice, with the cool wind blowing over a skater’s face, is an exhilarating feeling. One push propels a skater down the glittering, snowy surface. Concern about a head injury is far from the mind of a novice skater, as many participants are unaware of the possibility of head injury from skating. The goals of this article are: (1) To raise awareness about possible head injuries from skating and (2) To promote the use of helmets in beginner skating lessons and public sessions.

Common reactions from skating professionals are: “It doesn’t happen that often” or “I’ve never seen it happen on my ice rink.” However, statistics show that skating has one of the highest rates of emergency care for traumatic brain injury (TBI).

The facts

Centers for Disease Control (2011) analyzed more than 173,000 emergency room visits for concussions and other traumatic brain injuries in sports and recreation in children under 19 years of age.

· More than thirty categories of sports and recreational head injuries have been studied. Most sports showed 2-7% annual emergency room visits.

Skating reported one of the highest emergency room visits for TBI.

Ice Skating’s TBI stands at 11.4% with over 1,600 cases per year.

The establishment of helmet policies in sport is proving to be a divisive and controversial topic. Insurance companies are urging skate facilities to place a hazard warning potential at the entrance to the buildings. They further recommend that facilities do not offer helmets for hire, as proper fit, equipment inspection and disinfection are in the hands of the helmet owner, not necessarily the end user. However, people who visit ice rinks are not well informed about the potential risks of the activity before arriving. Once they arrive at the rink, customers are generally unwilling to go home to buy a helmet, or go to a store to buy a helmet. If provided with background knowledge, guests have the option to bring safety equipment from home prior to their visit. The choice would be in the hands of the consumer. Accident data supports the need to make this change. The first step is to train recreational participants through an awareness campaign.

Purpose and standards of helmets

Helmets protect the head by reducing the rate at which the skull and brain are accelerated and decelerated during a collision, effectively acting as a shock absorber between the force of the impact and the brain. By distributing concentrated impact forces across the protective foam, distributing the force across the wearer’s scalp and skull, a good helmet gives the brain the extra time and space it needs to reduce injury. Instead of the impact being concentrated in one point, it is spread over the wearer’s head.

Most helmets are made of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam with a hard plastic shell. The shell is designed to glide over rough surfaces and hold the foam together after the initial impact. On impact, the helmet’s polystyrene liner crushes, spreading the energy over a wider area. Similar to a shipping box, the outer box can dent, but the EPS “wrapping peanuts” foam protects the contents of the box from breaking. Once the foam in a helmet is crushed, it will not recover, so a new helmet must be purchased.

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The sponge pads in a helmet are for comfort and fit, not impact protection. When purchasing a helmet, the person who will be wearing it must be present at the time of purchase to ensure that the helmet fits properly. Helmets have different levels of protection and are classified for levels of impact and force. Helmet ratings are determined by its ability to absorb and dissipate the energy of an impact – regardless of the person’s speed. Cycling, skiing, ice hockey and football have made changes to safety guidelines based on the trends and statistics of head injury in their sports.

The Consumer Products Safety Commission provides guidelines for the type of helmet to wear for various activities. While there is no helmet standard specifically for skating, until such standards are written, wearing any of the listed types of helmets may be preferable to wearing no helmet at all. For ice skating, the recommended helmets are: ASTM F1447; Snell B-90A, B-95, N-94.

Positive effect of sports involvement

An ice rink is a place for children and adults to visit regularly, in their spare time, to participate in positive, fun exercises. This may not mean that you have to become an experienced skater, but rather that you become competent on the ice so that he/she can have a positive social experience and be “Be Ice Safe”. For this, the participants must learn to skate safely and with the correct technique. Once the skill is learned, he/she will continue to return to the facility with his friends. Having a positive place to go in free time provides people with a fun, progressive outlet to relieve stress.

Conclusion and recommendations

Data supports the need to promote ice safety, similar to pool safety and bicycle safety campaigns. Here are the steps:

· Formally adopt a helmet standard for skating in conjunction with the Consumer Products Safety Commission, ASTM and Snell;

· Develop campaign partners in businesses, non-profit organizations and state/local governments;

· Train rink industry professionals, including coaches and rink management

· Include helmet language guidelines in codes of conduct and liability exemptions;

· Enlist the help of famous skaters to promote the effort;

· Participate in a media campaign, including public service announcements on television, radio, print media and social media;

Offer helmet information flyers and marketing tables at Learn to Skate and public sessions at local ice rinks

Supporting professional coaches and rink staff is key to the campaign’s success, as they provide the Be ice safe message around their ice rinks. Reducing the number of head injuries will improve the overall safety of the sport. As safety improves, more people will participate in the sport of ice skating.