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Helmets for hurling

In the Gaelic sport of hurling, the speeding ball presents a danger to players, so a new standard for protective helmets is welcome.

Image © Cooper Sport (International) Ltd

Hurling is one of the most popular team-based field sports in the Republic of Ireland. The object of the game is for players using a wooden axe-shaped stick called a hurl, or a hurley, to hit a small ball (known as a sliothar) between the opponents’ goalposts, either over the crossbar for one point, or under the crossbar into a net guarded by a goalkeeper for three points. There is a similar game for women called camogie.

Facial and eye injuries are common and protective headgear incorporating a face guard is available for players. However, there are no rules that force senior players to wear helmets, although it is mandatory for juniors to do so.

Until recently, there have been no formal standards (whether national or harmonised ENs) to enable the testing of these helmets. SATRA has previously issued type-approval certificates for CE marking on the basis of its own technical specification developed to address all the relevant health and safety requirements of the PPE Directive. However, the National Standards Authority of Ireland has now published a standard for hurling helmets – IS 355:2006, which SATRA considers suitable for use when type-examining hurling helmets for CE marking.

This standard specifies a range of mandatory tests on the helmet and the face protector, with many of the tests based on established international testing methods and protocols.

The level of impact protection is assessed by fitting the helmet to a headform, which is fitted with accelerometers to measure the acceleration within the headform during an impact. This is then dropped on to an anvil consisting of a steel hemisphere designed to represent the ball or sliothar. The drop is carried out at a height designed to produce an impact energy of 15 joules. Each specified impact site is assessed (impacted) three times within a two to three minute time interval.

The requirements for shock absorption are that no impact should exceed a peak acceleration of 300g (where g = 9.81m.s-2). A further requirement is that a factor known as the head injury criteria (HIC) shall not exceed 1,000 for each impact. The HIC is based on the integration of the acceleration over time.

The face mask is also tested for its resistance to the hurley or the sliothar. For this test, the helmet plus faceguard is placed on a headform that incorporates facial features. The hurley impact is simulated by a steel disc of 100mm diameter and 10mm thickness, which is fired from an air cannon at 10m.s-1. Sliothar impacts are simulated by firing standardised sliothars in a similar manner. Either a size 4 or 5 sliothar is used, depending on the size of the face mask, and these are fired at 27m.s-1.

The face mask is considered to offer adequate protection if, in all impacts, it does not make contact with the face area of the headform. The usual method of determining this is to place a thin layer of modelling clay over the face of the headform and then to look for indents made by the face mask in the modelling clay after each impact.

Other tests in IS 355:2006 assess the innocuousness of the materials, the absence of sharp edges, helmet design, the field of vision, the extent of the protective area and the size of ventilation gaps.

Because these products are a form of personal protective equipment (PPE), manufacturers or suppliers must get them CE marked before they can legally be sold or distributed in Europe. All such helmets are category II personal protective equipment.

Therefore a Notified Body (such as SATRA) must carry out an EU type-examination and be satisfied that the helmets meet the essential health and safety requirements of the European PPE Regulation before issuing a type-examination certificate.

Further information on SATRA's PPE certification and testing services is available at www.satra.com/ppe

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Please email ppe@satra.com for more information about testing protective equipment for hurling or other sports.