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NOCSAE Continues to Improve Safety Standards

 This article originally appeared in the November 1981 issue of AB with the headline, “An Update on NOCSAE Research.”

 

The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) has, since its formation in 1969, worked to develop safety standards for athletic equipment, particularly football helmets and other headgear.

The following is an update on some of NOCSAE’s more recent research and actions.

 

Football Helmets

The NOCSAE standard for football helmets has remained virtually unchanged since the Sept., 1977 revision which included a section specifying procedure for qualified reconditioners to recertify previously NOCSAE-certified helmets, by means of a partial standards test.

Development of the helmet standard led to the formation of the National Athletic Equipment Reconditioners Association (NAERA). This is a nationwide organization of about 20 firms which, though very competitive in the marketplace, share technical information, materials and equipment and compile information annually on the quality control data generated in the reconditioning and recertification of football helmets.

The reconditioners also collaborate with new manufacturers in annual round-robin tests to insure accurate calibration of testing equipment used to sample the impact-absorbing properties of new and used football helmets going into the field each year.

In January, 1980, the NOCSAE Board of Directors adopted a warning label for helmets that reads:

“Do not use this helmet to butt, ram or spear and opposing player. This is in violation of the football rules and such use can result in severe head or neck injury, paralysis or death to you and possible injury to your opponent. No helmet can prevent all head or neck injuries a player might receive while participating in football.”

Since this warning statement was issued, football helmet manufacturers have affixed the statement to the inside of their helmets. At the July, 1981 meeting, NOCSAE further recommended that its certification seal on the outside of helmets—as well as all chin straps—be modified to include the wording, “See Warning Inside.”

 

Neck Protection

During the past two years, intensive research has been conducted to clarify the mechanisms of cervical fracture and dislocation, and to help insure that helmets and faceguards, designed for protection of the head and face, are not doing so at the expense of increased hazard to the neck.

It has been found that the design of the helmet’s rear rim does not contribute to injuries in extension, as has been charged by some critics. Field studies indicate that the primary cause of cervical spine fracture and dislocation is compression or flexion loading on the top of the helmet.

Laboratory studies at Wayne State University and elsewhere indicate that the risk of injury appears to be further increased if this loading is combined with torsion. Variations in helmet crown design have had little effect on strain measured in the spine as a result of impact on the top of the head of player surrogates in game collision simulations.

Transferring compression loads from helmet to shoulder pads or flexion loads through the faceguard to the chest pads are means of neck relief which are being studied. It must be remembered, however, that performance often suffers when extra protection is added, and visibility and mobility also play a part in protection. Furthermore, transferring loads from head to shoulders carries with it the risk of brachial plexus injuries.

Football Faceguards: Experiments are being conducted on the major faceguard models to determine if they have serious design flaws from the standpoint of either causing injury or giving inadequate protection. Todate they have been found to absorb significant energy infrontal blows, help relieve theneck in compression-flexion and are not a contributing factor in producint extension injuries. The tests involve game impact simulations using a head and neck instrumented dummy. It is anticipated that sufficient progress will be made to either make recommendations or introduce a primary standard at NOCSAE’s January, 1982 meeting.

Baseball Batter’s Helmets: A Baseball Batter’s Helmet Impact Standard has been published after almost four years of research and deliberations. Although head injuries in baseball do not appear to be a serious problem as far as fatalities are concerned, statistics on head injury in general as the result of being struck on the helmeted head by a baseball are lacking. As with football helmets, a baseball helmet standard will give the manufacturers a bench mark leading to improvements in design and materials, as well as preventing introduction of any inferior helmets. NOCSAE is also developing a warning statement for baseball helmets because throwing at the head and plate crowding can follow improved protection, which along with improper maintenance and abuse can negate the improvements.

 

Hockey Protection Equipment

Facemasks: The author is a member of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and as such has worked to improve relations between NOCSAE and ASTM. Currently recommendations have been made to NCAA member schools to adopt the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)—ASTM Hockey Facemask Standard F513-77.

Hockey Helmets: Cooperative research is being conducted by NOCSAE and reported to ASTM for the purpose of improving the proposed ASTM F8.15 Standard for hockey helmets.

 

Number of Serious Injuries Reduced

In the last decade the number of fatal and seriously injured football players due to head and neck injuries have been significantly reduced by equipment and rules changes. It is a fact of life, however, that young human beings cannot participate in any active sport without injury. The 1980 edition of “Accident Facts,” issued by the National Safety Council, shows that touch football had an injury rate of 0.2 per 100,000 participants compared to only 0.13 per 100.000 participants in regular football for school students. In 1963, which is the most recent data found by the author, there were six players fatally injured playing soccer in England. Relative figures in terms of incidence per 100,000 players are not available, but in contrast to this an average of four were fatally injured by head injury in high school football during the past four seasons in this country.

Whether by insurance programs or court settlements, there are presently gross inequities in financial aid and in the manner by which the costs are borne in caring for the seriously injured in football. In recognition of this, interested individuals have developed a proposal to investigate the feasibility of setting up a catastrophic injury foundation, to be broadly funded by the football community, including fans. Only one organizational meeting has been held and plans are not complete as to whether the foundation would provide financial assistance for those seriously injured in other school-related sports.

 

About the Author:

Voigt R. Hodgson, Ph.D., is director of the Gurdjan-Lissner Biomechanics Lab at Wayne State University. He has been a driving force in the development of athletic equipment testing and standards, serving as director of NOCSAE research and on various sub-committees of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) committee on sports equipment and facilities.

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