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A rink safety story:

On a wintry day soon after Christmas, a mother decided to take her small children out to one of the city’s skating trails. She bundled the kids into their snow suits, packed a snack and the new skates and the helmets and a change of clothes in case of a fall into wet snow, and – because one of the kids was just learning to skate – a portable plastic skate-aid. Then the family got on a bus with all their stuff, trying not to lose their balance when the bus drove off before everyone was sitting down. At the other end of the ride, they got off and walked 20 minutes to the rink. They got their skates on, skate aid reassembled, helmets adjusted, and went out onto the ice.

Two minutes later, a rink guard skated up to them and told them to get off the ice right away. The bike helmets the kids were wearing are not allowed, the guard said. All children under six must wear a hockey helmet certified by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) – no other certification will do. The mother said, “but we’re not playing hockey!” No matter, said the rink guard. The helmet is to protect the kids against banging their heads if they have a fall on the ice, and bike helmets won’t do that.

The mother had done her research before she bought her kids their helmets. She showed the rink guard the certification sticker inside the helmet, from the American government’s Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC). At this point the rink staff summoned her supervisor to help her deal with the mother’s resistance. The mother explained to the two rink staff that the CPSC certification means the helmet has been tested to withstand falls from seven feet high and a collision with a solid barrier (like a tree) while moving at 14 miles per hour. The kids were neither of them more than four feet high and they skated at speeds way below 14 miles an hour, on their new skates. As the kids watch anxiously, the mother asked, “Don’t you see that my kids are just fine with these helmets? It took us so long to get here, and my kids were so excited to come – please don’t keep us from skating.”

But the staff were firm. No rational argument could prevail against the city’s rule: only CSA-certified hockey helmets would do. So the mother took off all the skates, packed everything up, and took everyone back home after a memorably painful experience. She shared the story with her friends, and some of them decided that the extra expense of buying another set of helmets was not worth it, especially when there was no logic to it. Barring an unmonitored frozen pond nearby, skating would not become a family activity while their kids were young.

This same scene plays out in the same way every season at all Toronto rinks. Chalk up another point for the bubble-wrap movement, another loss for outdoor play.

The “what if” argument:

But what if even one child, wearing a non-CSA, non-hockey helmet, were to trip and fall and hit their head on the ice and die?

Well, actually, little kids almost never die of short falls. In fact, a very large survey published in 2008 by a California/ Utah/ Kentucky collaborative of medical researchers showed that in the case of falls of less than 1.5 m in vertical height, affecting young children up to five years old, the number of deaths was less than one in a million children. This confirms that little kids are made partly of rubber, a well-known fact (and a blessing) to parents.

But even if a child doesn’t die of a fall, what if she still gets a concussion – isn’t that worth preventing?

Any good helmet will help lessen the size of a bump or a cut on a kid’s head – a bike helmet as well as (or better than) a hockey helmet. But when it comes to concussions, helmets won’t prevent them – not bike helmets, not snowboarding helmets, and not hockey helmets either.

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Content last modified on February 03, 2014, at 11:01 AM EST