Times have changed. Today, many types of injuries that can occur during competitive and recreational sporting activities are prevented through the use of well-designed and properly fitted safety equipment. Many young adults have now grown up wearing safety equipment. In some cases, it's even fashionable.
Helmets help prevent or minimize head injury and cuts in activities like hockey, alpine skiing and snowboarding, and biking. Even though helmets sold for these three sports are quite different, the considerations for buying one are the same.
First, all helmets should carry a Canadian Standards Association (CSA) approval. This approval assures that the helmet has undergone specific testing for withstanding a certain level of stress and strain. Look for the CSA logo on the box or directly on the helmet. (Insert CSA logo - tif file attached)
To fit the helmet, try on all different makes and models to find the helmet with the most comfortable, but snug, fit. An easy guideline for fitting a helmet is that the front of the helmet should sit one to two finger widths above the eyebrow. The helmet should not wobble on your head when you shake your head in the "yes/no" fashion. The front of the helmet should easily cover the front portion of your head. The chinstrap should attach snugly under the chin to keep the helmet from being knocked off. Buy a helmet that you do not have to alter in order to wear comfortably. Altering a helmet reduces its protective abilities and makes its CSA approval useless.
Helmets need to be checked on a continual basis for wear and tear. Any time the helmet takes a hard knock, look at the plastic shell and foam liner to be sure that nothing has been broken. If the helmet is damaged, it must be replaced. Frequent inspection of your helmet will also help to identify foam stress. If the foam of your helmet has changed color, become brittle or dented, replace the helmet.
Foam can be damaged in a number of ways. Try not to wear hair products in your hair before using your helmet. Hair spray and gel can react with the foam and cause it to age. Never paint your helmet to change the color. Paint applied to the outer plastic lining can make it brittle. Many people put stickers on helmets as a way to personalize them. Unfortunately the glue in many stickers will also damage the outer shell of helmets.
Since moisture and sweat can build up in a helmet, dry it after each use. Water in a helmet can cause glues to loosen and metal parts to rust. Allow your helmet to air dry at room temperature. Try not to leave it in the direct sun or any other heat source. Natural wear and tear, along with stresses from the extremes of the Canadian weather, are hard on equipment. The current industry standard for helmet replacement, whether it is a bike or a hockey helmet, is two years.
In sports such as hockey, ringette, and rollerblading, elbow pads are a must. Falling directly on your elbow can be extremely painful. The sport and your level of play will determine how heavy duty an elbow pad you need. The most protective pads are those that have a hard cap around the point of the elbow, and a donut suspended on the inside. This suspension keeps the point of the elbow from coming in contact with the hard outer cap. When fitting elbow pads, try on many different types to find the most comfortable but snug ones. When your arm is straight, the elbow pad should not slide down the arm. When moving the arm, the pad should not shift up or down exposing the elbow. The pad should allow you to still bend and extend your elbow, and your forearm should still be able to rotate.
A few decades ago thick catalogues were prized possessions among many a hockey player. Today, lightweight shin pads offer maximal protection around the front and side of the leg. Shin pads come in various lengths to accommodate different sizes of legs. Sizes are marked on the pads. They should have a hard cap and front shield that will deflect a puck's blow. They should also have a top and side flaps that wrap over the top of the knee and around the back of your leg. Make sure they are long enough not to leave any gaps between your skate and the shin guard. Be careful when putting pads on as some are curved to naturally follow the line of the shin, and so are marked left and right. When placed on the wrong leg, they can be rather uncomfortable.
Wrist protectors are probably the most under-used piece of safety equipment on the market. Anyone who rollerblades should own and use a set of these. Wrist guards are primarily made with a neoprene type elastic, and a plastic coated metal slab on the palm of the hand. Fine adjusting for fit is accomplished by Velcro™ straps. The metal slab should be shaped to hold your hand in a working position. You should be able to oppose all your fingers and still make a fist. When placed on your hand, the guard should not slip or shift when you move your hand. The bending and extending of your wrist will be limited. However, the guard should not be so tight as to cut off your circulation.
Once you have purchased any kind of protective equipment, whether a helmet, pads or wrist protectors, take care of it so it can protect you properly. Accidents happen and you may have to replace a piece of equipment that has been broken or damaged while doing its job. However proper maintenance of this equipment not only helps with its protective capabilities, but reduces early replacement costs for misused equipment.
Many forms of protective equipment, such as wrist guards for rollerblading, are made up mainly of plastic, elastic and metal. Each of these materials is affected by the elements. Weather and temperature extremes cause plastic and elastic to weaken. For this reason, it is important to store equipment at room temperature and out of direct sunlight.
Water can also damage equipment, causing metal parts to rust, and become brittle. It may also damage glues or the thread used to sew protective equipment together. Since sweating is inevitable with exercising, equipment will get wet. Air dry it in a well-ventilated area. Decreasing the time that equipment is wet also helps cut down on the bacterial growth that thrives within it. Bacteria can cause the 'Hockey Glove Stench.' However, beside the assault to your sense of smell, bacteria can also cause serious skin irritations.
Most protective equipment, with the exception of helmets, can be washed in the gentle cycle of the washing machine. After that air dry it instead of using the dryer. Check the integrity of your equipment regularly. If you notice any cracks or breaks in the plastic or metal, replace that piece of equipment. As well, anytime you fall and stress a piece of protective equipment, look at it to see if it has been damaged it in any way. Wearing broken or worn out equipment only protects your false sense of security.
Life jackets are also known as Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs), and are obviously made to help you float. There are five different varieties of PFDs, but the most common varieties are Types I to III. Type I PFDs are offshore life jackets and are intended to be worn in choppy water. They float the best and will hold an unconscious wearer's face out of water. However their high flotation capabilities make them more bulky.
Type II PFDs are considered a near-shore vest, where the water is calmer and there is a good chance of quick rescue. These vests are most often used inland on lakes and rivers. They will also help to turn most unconscious wearers face-up in the water. They are a little less bulky and less expensive than a Type I PFD. Type III PFD's are also for inland use on calm water, but not for extended survival in choppy water. They are designed mostly for water sports such as water skiing and kayaking. Due to the increased mobility allowed by their design, the wearer will sit lower in the water. This means that waves may wash the wearer's head. As well, this PFD is not designed to turn the unconscious wearer face-up.
When choosing which PFD, first decide which type suits your needs. Take sizing into account - all life jackets have labels on them that show how to size. Chest size and body weight are listed on the label along with the type. There are a variety of youth and adult sizes available which should be chosen based on fit. Jackets should have adjustable straps on the side, and must attach securely at the front. If you were to be lifted by the shoulders of the jacket, it should not easily slide off. The PFD should be bright in color, such as orange or yellow. These colors are highly visible and increase the chances that you will be spotted if you end up in the water.
If you do a lot of boating or water sports, it is important that you are comfortable with your own PFD. Before an outing, children who have never worn a PFD should go to the neighborhood pool and get used to how it feels to float with one. Make sure that the PFD fits properly and the jacket does not ride up. If the PFD does not keep the chin above the water, look for a different kind of jacket.
Life jacket maintenance is very similar to general safety equipment maintenance. Allow the PFD to drip dry and store away from a heat source. Don't alter your PFD if it does not fit. Avoid placing heavy pressure on the PFD, as this may compress the foam and decrease its buoyancy. If your PFD has been in salt or chlorinated water, rinse it in fresh water, as the salt or chlorine may affect the materials in the jacket. Always check for tears or strap damage prior to each outing. It is recommended that you test the buoyancy of each jacket at least twice a year.
Recreational safety requires not only the purchase of solid, well made equipment, but the maintenance and upgrading of that equipment. Attention to safety and safety equipment pays off in spades for the safety of you and your family. May you have many happy family outings that do not include any emergencies or doctors' visits.