Do you wear a helmet?

The ‘Put a Lid on It! Winter Helmet Safety Forum’ presented by Safe Kids Canada on Nov 20th, 2009 featured a panel discussion on the following question – “Is ski and snowboard helmet use a no-brainer on Canadian alpine slopes or does Canada need a law?”

The panel, hosted by Natalie Clancy of CBC Vancouver, included Dr. Brent Hagel (Epidemiologist), Dr. Charles Tator (Physician and Neurosurgeon),  Dr. Richard Stanwick (Chief Medical Health Officer) and Mr. Matt Herman (Director, Injury Prevention, BC Ministry of Health).

Currently in Canada there is no agreed upon standard from helmet manufacturers, no helmets that meet CSA (Canadian Standards Association) standards and no legislated enforcement of these standards. Out of 55 models of helmets, 95% do meet some sort of standard – usually US or European (self enforced by manufacturers).

Hedy Fry (Member of Parliament: Vancouver Centre) has introduced a Private Member’s bill to modify Hazardous Products Act to include ski/snowboard helmets.  If implemented, all ski/snowboard helmets sold in Canada would have to be CSA approved.

Legislation is a concern for the ski industry due to enforcement and litigation.  Plaintiffs have been successful suing on closed runs/lifts. The Canada Ski Council is unanimously against legislation.

There is some support for the use of helmets – Intrawest has mandated that helmets are mandatory for all youth and kids lessons and for students of all ages for the freestyle terrain park program. Ontario has mandated that helmets are mandatory for all kids skiing or snowboarding as part of a school group.

Helmet use on Canadian ski hills is currently about 50%.The panel noted that bike helmet use increased from 25% to 60% after legislation passed to make it a requirement.

95% of grade 4-5 kids are wearing helmets, however brain injury from ski/snowboard activities is increasing. According to the Brain Injury Association of Canada, children account for 67% of all ski related deaths, and an estimated 87.5% of ski/snowboard deaths are caused by head injury.

Factors such as speed, aerials, acrobatics, trees and traveling in out of bounds areas are causing this increase in injuries. A study done in 2007 demonstrated that skiers and snowboarders who wore helmets traveled at slower speeds and challenged themselves less than non-helmet wearers. Though further research into risk compensation is required.

It is estimated that for every 10 people who wear a helmet, up to 6 may avoid head injuries such as brain injuries, abrasions, lacerations, fractures, etc.

Richard Kinar – who started out as a parent advocate for helmet safety and now has a leadership position on head injuries with the Canadian Standards Association and the Brain Injury Association of B.C. advocates that it be mandatory for kids across the province to watch ‘Wipe Out’, a film that follows three young B.C. men who suffered life-changing brain injuries.

The Brain Injury Association of Canada has endorsed the Vancouver Charter on Skiing Safety launched by Safe Kids Canada, and hope that increased public awareness on the benefits of wearing helmets will help lead to government legislation in the near future.

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