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Helmet Safety, Standards and Design

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  • Do helmets save lives?
  • Is there a standard for manufacturing a helmet? How do I know if the snowsport helmet I wear will provide me enough protection?
  • Are there helmets specifically designed for snowsports or can my child wear his or her bicycle helmet?
  • Articles on Helmet Standards
  • Q: Do helmets save lives?
    According to two recent Ski Industry Associations, helmets reduce the risk of serious brain injury but may not actually save lives. The two articles follow.

    "Colorado study shows helmets reduce serious brain injuries 75%

    SIN 11/25/03 Denver, Colo. - The Christy Sports Helmet Loaner Program has probably prevented about 77 serious head injuries over the past five seasons, according to Stewart Levy, MD, the neurosurgeon who helped to launch the program in 1998. Under the helmet loaner program, skiers and snowboarders who rent gear for the day from a Front Range Christy Sports location are offered free use of a helmet. About a third of all rental customers take advantage of the program, which means that the shops have sent the helmets out for about 310,000 user-days over the past five winters. "Studies have shown that skiers and snowboarders sustain traumatic brain injuries at a rate of 0.25 injuries per 1000 skier-visits," Dr. Levy said. "We've now shown that helmet use prevents about 62 to 79% of these injuries, and to our knowledge no one has had a head injury while wearing one of the loaner helmets. When you run the numbers, it works out that the Christy Sports program has directly prevented about 75 to 80 brain injuries." Dr. Levy's group, InterMountain Neurosurgery in Denver, along with Centura Trauma Services, has kept track of skiing and snowboarding injuries since 1995. Over that period, the frequency of all injuries treated by ski patrols has averaged about 3 per 1000 skier-days (a skier-day is one skier or snowboarder using the lifts for one day). Meanwhile, the proportion of serious head injuries has gradually declined, as helmet use has grown from near-zero in 1995. Last winter (2002-03), Dr. Levy's research found that about 27% of all skiers, and about 46% of all snowboarders, wore helmets. "We're very happy with the growing level of acceptance of helmets, but we'd like to see it higher," Dr. Levy said. "We know that helmet use reduces the chance of fatality by 80%, and it does not increase the likelihood of other injuries. So we think helmet use should be universal." According to the data from their Level I Trauma Center, Dr. Levy said, his group has found that helmets provide significant protection at all speeds, and they do not increase the frequency of spinal injuries. Most important, he said, "when injuries do happen, helmets greatly reduce the severity of the injury. We now see a greater proportion of minor concussions among helmet users, and many fewer fatal and severe brain injuries." The Christy Sports loaner program began in 1998, when Dr. Levy purchased 200 helmets to use in a pilot study at three rental shops in Winter Park, with the help of Jim Peterson from Christy Sports. It proved so successful that Christy Sports has gradually expanded the program to about 5000 helmets in 33 stores. Dr. Levy and his colleagues at St. Anthony Central Hospital have funded the program with grants from the St. Anthony Health Foundation. "I don't think there's any question that the loaner program increased the visibility and acceptance of helmets across the state," said Christy Sports marketing director Denny Bride. "We've seen helmet sales double and redouble. Dr. Levy's study proves to us that our customers are safer now than they were five years ago."

    Study: Helmets may not save lives

    SIN 04/28/05 Niigata, Japan -- A paper presented here last week, authored by Jake Shealy, Carl Ettlinger and Robert Johnson, suggests that helmets have had minimal impact on skier/snowboarder fatality rates. The study was read to the International Society for Skiing Safety, meeting here April 17 to 25. Researchers followed in-bounds fatalities to guests at snowsports resorts across the U.S., from the 1991-92 season to 2003-04 -- a total of 459 deaths out of 650.7 million skier/days. The report found "no statistically significant change" in fatality rates to either skiers or snowboarders during the period, despite the growth of helmet use to 28.3% of the skier/rider population. 58% of those killed were wearing helmets. 60% of those killed hit trees; 10% died in collisions with other skier/riders. No mention is made in the study's abstract of non-fatal injuries, nor of injuries prevented. An
    ongoing study in Colorado suggests that helmet use reduces the chance of serious brain injury by about 75%. --Seth Masia Q: Is there a standard for manufacturing a helmet? How do I know if the snowsport helmet I wear will provide me enough protection?
    When purchasing a helmet, read the accompanying literature to see if the helmet meets one of the three following helmet standards: The Common European Norm (CEN) is a large European standard organization that develops hundreds of standards for various products used by the European Union. The CEN 1077 standard is the European ski helmet standard; it was issued in 1996. This European ski helmet standard was almost identical to a pre-existing ski helmet standard used in the 1980s. Compared with the other ski helmet standards, the CEN standard is the least demanding in impact management requirements. The American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM), a not-for-profit organization that provides a global forum for the development and publication of voluntary consensus standards for materials, products, systems, and services, adopted a United States? recreational snowsports helmet F2040 standard in May 2000; it has become the standard to which helmets should be manufactured in the United States. Ski and Snowboard helmets manufactured in the United States should conform to the ASTM snowsports helmet standard. For more information about ASTM, log on to Lastly, the Snell Memorial Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to research, education, testing and development of helmet safety standards, develops helmet standards and operates test labs for testing and certification. Since its founding in 1957, Snell has been a leader in helmet safety in the United States and around the world. (For more information, log on to The Snell RS-98 standard is the most stringent ski helmet standard in the world. Note: The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) endorsed the use of snowsports helmets in January of 1999. (For the document, go to, under library/FOIA, click on consumer-related statistics, then click on skiing helmets, at bottom). The CPSC noted that while the then proposed ASTM standard (the ASTM Standard wasn?t adopted until May 2000) and the CEN standard may differ in test parameters, a helmet that meets either of the standards ?will provide adequate protection to reduce the risk of head injury.? The Snell standard, presumably, would be considered adequate as well since it?s the most stringent of the three standards. National Ski Areas Association 2004
    Q: Are there helmets specifically designed for snowsports or can my child wear his or her bicycle helmet?
    A: If you or your children wear a helmet while bicycling, it?s great to see that you?re already safety conscious. Likewise, it?s probably a good idea to wear a helmet on the slopes? it really comes down to your acceptance of risk. Ski and snowboard helmets are specifically designed for skiing and snowboarding usage. Wearing another sport?s helmet, such as a bicycle helmet, may or may not afford you adequate protection. Ski and snowboard helmets are built and designed for multiple impacts (the combination of a hard shell and the liner.) Bicycle helmets are generally built for single impacts. Ski and snowboard helmets are also insulated for cold weather and bicycle helmets provide more ventilation than ski helmets. A ski and snowboard helmet should provide better coverage and impact protection than wearing a bicycle helmet on the slopes. Keep in mind that the risk of a potentially serious head injury on the slopes may be much lower than you think. Such injuries are actually less than 2.5 percent of all medically significant injuries in skiing, whereas for bicycle riders, the comparable number is 32 percent. However, the National Ski Areas Association encourages you to consider wearing a helmet on the slopes and educate yourself about a helmet?s benefits and limitations. National Ski Areas Association 2004
    Articles on Helmet Standards
  • Snell Testing Standards
  • A Comparison of RS-98, ASTM 2040, CEN 1077