Gliding across the ice, with the cool wind whipping 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 not aware 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 responses from skating professionals are: “It doesn’t happen that often” or “I’ve never seen it happen at my rink.” 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 age 19 years.
· More than thirty categories of sports and recreation head injuries were examined. Most sports demonstrated 2-7% annual emergency room visits.
· Ice skating reported one of the highest instances of emergency room visits for TBI.
· TBI from Ice Skating are at 11.4% with more than 1,600 cases annually.
Instituting helmet policies in sports proves 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. Further, they recommend facilities do not offer helmets for rent, as proper fitting, equipment inspection, and disinfection lies 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 rink, customers are generally unwilling to go home to get a helmet, or go to a store to purchase a helmet. If provided with background knowledge, ahead of their visit, guests will have the opportunity to bring safety equipment from home. The choice would lie in the consumer’s hands. Accident data supports the need to make this change. The first step is educating 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 the 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 forces of impact over the protective foam, and thus spreading the force over the wearer’s scalp and skull, a good helmet provides the brain extra time and space needed to reduce injury. Instead of the impact concentrating on one point, it is spread across 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. Upon impact, the polystyrene liner of the helmet crushes thereby dissipating energy over a wider area. Similar to a shipping carton, the outer box may dent, but the EPS foam “packing peanuts” protect the contents of the box from breaking. Once the foam in a helmet is crushed, it does not recover, therefore a new helmet should be purchased.
The sponge pads inside a helmet are for comfort and fit, not for impact protection. When purchasing a helmet, the person who will be wearing it should be present when making the purchase to insure the helmet fits properly. Helmets have different levels of protection and are rated for levels of impacts 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 football have made changes in safety guidelines based on the trends and statistics of head injuries in their sports.
The Consumer Products 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, until such standards are written, wearing one 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 skating rink is a place for children and adults to visit on a regular basis, during their leisure time, to engage in positive, fun exercise. This may not mean becoming an expert skater, but becoming competent on the ice that he/she can have a positive social experience and “Be Ice Safe.” In order for this to happen, the participants should learn to skate safely and with the proper 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 conjunction with the Consumer Products Safety Commission, ASTM, and Snell;
· Develop campaign partners in corporations, non-profit organizations, and the State/Local governments;
· Educate ice-rink industry professionals including coaches and rink management
· Include helmet language guidelines in codes of conduct and liability waivers;
· Enlist the assistance of celebrity ice skaters to bring awareness to the effort;
· Engage in a media campaign including television, radio, print & social media public service announcements;
· Offer helmet informational fliers and marketing tables at Learn to Skate and public sessions at local ice rinks
Support from professional coaches and rink staff are key to the success of the campaign, as they can spread the Be Ice Safe message around their ice rinks. Reducing the incidents of head injury will improve the overall safety of the sport. As safety improves, more people will participate in the sport of ice skating.