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Be Ice Safe: Bring a Helmet to the Ice Rink
Gliding across the ice, with the cool wind blowing across a skater’s face, is an exhilarating feeling. One push propels a skater down the glistening, snowy surface. Worrying about a head injury is far from a beginner skater’s mind, as many participants are unaware of the possibility of head injury from ice skating. The goals of this article are: (1) To raise awareness about potential head injury from ice skating and (2) To promote the use of helmets in beginner Learn to Skate classes and public sessions.
Common answers from professional skaters are: “It doesn’t happen that often” or “I’ve never seen that happen at my track.” However, statistics show that ice skating has one of the highest rates of emergency room visits for traumatic brain injury (TBI).
· 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 the age of 19 years.
· More than thirty categories of sports and recreational head injuries were investigated. Most sports showed 2-7% annual emergency room visits.
· Ice skating reported one of the highest incidences of emergency room visits for TBI.
· TBI of Ice Skating is at 11.4% with more than 1,600 cases annually.
The introduction of helmet policies in sports appears to be a divisive and controversial issue. Insurance companies strongly urge skating facilities to post a warning potential of risks at the entrance of the buildings. Furthermore, they recommend that facilities not offer helmets for rent, as proper fitting, equipment inspection and sanitization are in the hands of the helmet owner, not necessarily the end user. However, people visiting ice skating rinks are not well informed about the potential risks of the activity before arrival. Once they arrive at the track, customers are generally not willing to go home to get a helmet, or go to a store to buy a helmet. If provided with background knowledge, guests will have the opportunity to bring safety equipment from home before 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 educate recreational participants through a public 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 an impact, effectively acting as a shock absorber between the force of the impact and the brain. By spreading concentrated impact forces across the protective foam, thereby spreading the force across the wearer’s scalp and skull, a good helmet provides the brain with the extra time and space needed to minimize injury. Instead of the impact being concentrated at 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 slide on rough surfaces and hold the foam together after initial impact. On impact, the polystyrene liner of the helmet shatters and disperses energy over a larger area. Similar to a shipping carton, the outer box can dent, but the EPS foam “pack peanuts” protects the contents of the box from breaking. Once the foam in a helmet is crushed, it does not recover, so a new helmet must be purchased.
The sponge pads inside a helmet are for comfort and fit, not impact protection. When purchasing a helmet, the person who will be wearing it must be present when the purchase is made to ensure that the helmet fits properly. Helmets have different levels of protection and are rated for levels of impact and forces. The 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 soccer have made changes in safety guidelines based on the trends and statistics of head injuries in their sports.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission offers guidelines for the type of helmet to wear for different activities. Although a helmet standard does not exist specifically for ice skating, wearing one of the listed types of helmet may be preferable to wearing no helmet until such standards are written. For ice skating, the recommended helmets are: ASTM F1447; Snell B-90A, B-95, N-94.
Positive effect of sports involvement
An ice skating rink is a place for children and adults to visit on a regular basis during their free time for positive, fun exercise. This may not mean becoming an expert skater, but becoming competent on the ice so that he/she can have a positive social experience and “Be Ice Safe.” To make this happen, the participants must learn to skate safely and with the right technique. Once the skill is learned, he/she will continue to return to the facility with their friends. Having a positive place to go during leisure 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 ice skating in collaboration with the Consumer Products Safety Commission, ASTM and Snell;
· Develop campaign partners in corporations, non-profit organizations and the state/local governments;
· Educate rink industry professionals, including coaches and rink management
· Include helmet language guidelines in codes of conduct and liability waivers;
· Enlist the help of famous ice skaters to raise awareness of the effort;
· Participate in a media campaign including television, radio, print and social media public service announcements;
· Offer helmet information leaflets and marketing tables at Learn to Skate and public sessions at local rinks
Support from professional coaches and track staff is key to the success of the campaign as they can spread the word Be ice safe message around their rinks. Reducing the incidence of head injuries will improve the overall safety of the sport. As safety improves, more people will participate in the sport of ice skating.
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