Richardson death revives debate on ski helmets

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Posted on 20th March 2009 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Date: 3/19/2009 11:14 PM

By MEGAN K. SCOTT
Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) ā€” News that actress Natasha Richardson died of head injuries after falling on a ski slope has renewed debate over whether helmets should be mandatory for snowboarders and downhill skiers.

The 45-year-old actress was not wearing a helmet when she fell Monday at Mont Tremblant ski resort in Quebec. She died Wednesday in a New York hospital.

It’s unclear whether a helmet could have saved Richardson. But research shows wearing a helmet decreases the likelihood of having a head injury by 40 to 60 percent, said Dr. Robert Williams, associate professor of anesthesia and pediatrics at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, Vermont.

“There’s no downside at all to wearing a helmet,” he said.

In the United States, the National Ski Areas Association is not aware of any states that mandate helmets. But the association and its member resorts promote their use, and a growing number of skiers and snowboarders choose to wear them.

According to the group, nearly half of U.S. skiers and snowboarders wore helmets in the past two years, up from about 25 percent five years earlier. Sales of helmets have grown at a rate of about 9 percent each year since 2005-2006, according to SnowSports Industries America.

Quebec officials said Thursday that they are considering making helmets mandatory on ski slopes following Richardson’s accident. Emergency room doctors had been lobbying for the requirement, and Richardson’s death added impetus to the plans, said Jean-Pascal Bernier, a spokesman for the sports minister.

“By no means will a helmet save you 100 percent but it’s definitely a step in the right direction to try to prevent brain damage or something like that,” said Valerie Powell of the Canada Safety Council.

But the National Ski Areas Association, based in Lakewood, Colorado, stops short of calling for legislation.

The increase in helmet usage has not reduced the overall number of ski fatalities; more than half of the people involved in fatal accidents last season were wearing helmets at the time of the incident, according to information gathered by the group.

And ski and snowboarding-related deaths are relatively rare. During the 2004-2005 season, 45 fatalities occurred out of the 56.9 million skier/snowboarder days reported for the season, according to NSAA.

Helmets may be effective at preventing minor injuries, but they have not been shown to reduce fatalities, said Jasper Shealy, a professor emeritus at the Rochester Institute of Technology who has been studying skiing and snowboarding since 1970.

He encourages people to wear helmets, although he suspects they may give people a false sense of security to engage in risky stunts. Helmets work better at slow speeds, he said, when they can protect against injuries caused by collisions with solid objects.

Ski operators are among the most vocal opponents to mandated helmet use.

Alexis Boyer of the Quebec Ski Areas Association said 90 percent of youngsters under 12 already use helmets, but making that law would put operators in the position of having to police their guests, many of whom come from outside the province and country and may not be aware of the requirements.

Still, people tend to change their behavior as a result of high-profile deaths.

Andrea Fereshteh, 29, a writer at Duke University, said she started wearing a helmet after the ski-related deaths of Sonny Bono and Michael Kennedy. Both crashed into trees.

“It just became much more publicized about the need for helmets,” she said.

Richardson’s death is likely to hit home for skiers because she was on a beginner slope when she fell. Resort officials say she seemed fine immediately afterward and even refused to see a doctor but that she began complaining of a headache about an hour later and was rushed to hospital.

Scott Kerschbaumer, a former ski instructor who has never worn a helmet, considered Bono’s and Kennedy’s skiing deaths to be the result of high-speed, somewhat reckless behavior.

Richardson shows “that the most serious of injuries and even death can result from the most innocuous of falls while skiing.”

Kerschbaumer said he hadn’t wanted to wear a helmet because of vanity and comfort, but will now purchase one for himself and his 6-year-old son.

As a beginner skier, Latoicha Phillips Givens, 35, an attorney in Atlanta, thought she was safe skiing without one. She said she certainly is going to wear one now.

But Bill Douglass, 37, a social media strategist in New York City, said he doesn’t want to see people overreact.

“I think wearing a helmet when skiing is going too far,” he said. “Better to encourage people to focus on smarter safety measures like taking classes, learning how to stop properly, that kind of thing.”

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Associated Press Writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

After football player death, Ky. seeks safety plan

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Posted on 13th March 2009 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Date: 3/13/2009 6:50 PM

By BRUCE SCHREINER
Associated Press Writer

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) ā€” Kentucky House lawmakers unanimously passed a bill Friday to require the state’s high school coaches to complete first aid and sports safety training on athlete heat stroke and cold emergencies, a measure inspired by the death of a teenage football player at a sweltering summer practice.

National experts gave mixed reviews to Kentucky’s sports safety measure, which if signed into law by Gov. Steve Beshear would require every high school coaching staff to have at least one member with safety training roaming practice fields and game sidelines by the start of the next school year.

The measure, spurred on by the death of high school lineman Max Gilpin, cleared the House 93-0 Friday and the Senate 38-0 a day earlier.

“The intent is to give the coaches the tools they need to keep our students safe,” Democratic Rep. Joni Jenkins said after sponsoring the bill.

She said it was designed to give coaches greater know-how in averting any emergency and better skills to deal with one before trained medical help can be found.

“They’ll be able to recognize dangerous situations before they become tragic. And they’ll know to act immediately,” she said.

Beshear spokesman Jay Blanton said the governor will review the measure before deciding whether to sign it.

Gilpin, a sophomore at Pleasure Ridge Park High School in Louisville, died after collapsing in practice last August and arriving at a hospital with a 107-degree temperature, authorities said.

The 15-year-old’s coach, David Jason Stinson, has pleaded not guilty to reckless homicide in an unusual case of a coach being charged criminally with a player’s death.

Gilpin’s death certificate showed he died of septic shock, multiple organ failure and complications from heat stroke, three days after working out for two to three hours in temperatures that reportedly felt like 94 degrees. No autopsy was conducted.

The case alarmed Kentucky residents and sent shock waves through high school athletic programs nationwide after a rash of player deaths reported in high school programs around the country last year.

From 1995 through 2008, there were 39 heat stroke cases in all levels of football that resulted in death, according to a report compiled by Frederick Mueller at the University of North Carolina for the American Football Coaches Association in February 2009.

Mueller, a professor specializing in sport administration, said Friday that Kentucky’s proposal was a “good idea,” and said more states are now taking a closer look at athlete safety.

But Douglas J. Casa, director of athletic training education at the University of Connecticut, said that the concept is good but the bill doesn’t go far enough. “No course is going to properly prepare them (coaches) to deal with the emergencies they’re going to have to deal with on the field,” he said.

Casa said schools offering sports programs should be required to hire athletic trainers ā€” something some say will be difficult because it requires more money.

Kentucky schools are not required to have certified athletic trainers, though the Kentucky High School Athletic Association strongly encourages them to hire trainers. The association issued a statement lauding the bill for putting an increased spotlight on safety and ensuring any risks to players are minimized.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.