A new idea that makes sense in helmets: the Bern Hard Hat

Many people have heard my comments on helmets for the outdoor recreation industry. Very few helmets, if any, are fitted properly, worn properly or used properly. Many helmets are used in ways that increase the risk or are worthless because head injuries do not occur in the sport.

Examples are studies from Ski-Injury.com that showed helmets are only effective in skiing for slow injuries1,2 and that head injuries only represent 10-20% of all skiing injuries3 in one study and only 2 to 8% in another.4 For males between the ages of the late teens to their early thirties a helmet will not affect the mortality rate.5 Helmets do reduce head injuries.6 Several studies have shown the most important aspect of wearing a helmet on the slopes is to protect your head from being hit by a chairlift or lift if you fall down.7

The other argument with helmets is the issues of risk homeostasis or risk compensation. This theory states that the safer you feel, the more likely you are to increase your risk. Wearing a helmet will subsequently increase your risk of an accident because you feel safer with the helmet.8,9 Consequently injuries among skiers are highest among those that are wearing helmets.10

One place a helmet may make a difference is the courtroom. Judges and appellate courts invariably comment about whether the plaintiff in a lawsuit was wearing a helmet when the plaintiff suffered a head injury.

At the same time, helmets in some activities are needed. For skiing, if you recognize the possible risk homeostasis issues, buy a helmet that fits properly, properly wear the helmet and throw the helmet away if you have a major impact, they will prevent head injuries, not death, but injuries. Throw the helmet away? Yes!

Helmets come with disclaimers that say they should be discarded and destroyed if they suffer a major impact. This is because 99% of the helmets sold for most sports are sold with a plastic or other hard shell surrounding an EPS liner. The protection afforded by the helmet is combination of the shell and the liner. EPS is that hard foam under the soft padding that gives the helmet its protection. Because of the way the EPS and shell are molded together, cracks in the EPS are rarely visible from the inside. Moreover if there is a liner glued to the EPS. The EPS is difficult to remove from the shell and doing so ruins the helmet. Once a crack occurs in the EPS the structural integrity of the helmet is compromised and the helmet should be discarded.

Bern has come up with a slightly different approach to this problem. They have helmets, which they call Hard Hats that are lined with Brock foam.11 This foam is a multi-impact liner that allows the user to experience several if not dozens of impacts without having to replace the hard hat. Besides the foam is soft and very comfortable to wear, breathable and allows air to circulate as well as wicking.

The problem is the foam does not meet the current standards to receive ASTM or EN approval. So technically it is not a helmet but a hard hat. The buyer is faced with a decision to buy a helmet that does not provided the protection that an EPS lined helmet does or to buy a helmet that provides less protection, but more protection for the injuries helmets do really protect the wearer from. A real catch 22 for the buyer, but one worth studying. Bern offers all its helmets with Brock Foam with EPS if you like the style, but want different protection.

You can take a lot of falls. The choice is up to you, measured better protection at an minute amount for a small percentage of risk or a helmet that can take a beating, protect you head and last longer than one trip to the slopes.

1 Helmets on the slopes….Heads you win?

2 A summary of the research presented at the 16th International Symposium of the ISSS held in at Mount Arai, Japan in April 2005.

3 Helmets on the slopes….Heads you win?

4 BackTalk; Helmets Do Not Make The Ski Slopes Safer

5 Shealy research sheds light on helmet use

6 Helmet Safety, Standards and Design

7 Alpine Ski Injuries

8 Risk Compensation & Helmet Wearing. June 2001

9 Helmets

10 BackTalk; Helmets Do Not Make The Ski Slopes Safer

11 Bern Catalog

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