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CPSC Warns Against Helmet Use on Playgrounds

Summary: This 1999 article reported on CPSC's campaign to warn about the dangers of using bike helmets on playgrounds.

An Article from
Bicycle Retailer and Industry News
March 15, 1999

CPSC Warns of Danger from Using Helmets on Playgrounds

Helmet Contributes to Boy's Death

BY Steve Frothingham

WASHINGTON, D.C.- The February death of 3 year old Eugene Arnold in a Pennsylvania playground is bringing attention to a danger many previously thought was unlikely in the United States: strangulation by a helmet strap.

Safety experts have been aware of deaths and non fatal accidents in other countries involving children who were wearing bike helmets while on playground equipment or in trees.

Children can often fit their bodies through narrow spaces that a helmet won't fit through. But experts thought U.S. regulations and standards for playground equipment would prevent such accidents.

(Pull Quote in Box)

"Helmets with strong straps have saved hundreds or thousands of lives, so these incidents must be seen in that perspective." - Randy Swart

The safety community got a wake up call when they learned of Eugene Arnold's Feb. 4 death.

Arnold was playing on a slide in an apartment complex playground in Fairfax Township, Pennsylvania. He crawled into a space between two overlapping platforms at the top of a slide. When his mother and a friend found him, his body was hanging off the platform while his head and chest were still stuck on the ledge.

A medical examiner said he was not hung but suffocated when the weight of his lower body compressed his chest against the platform.

A reporter for the York Dispatch later measured the space between the two platforms at 8 l/! inches. ASTM playground standards forbid any opening between 3 1/2 inches and 9 inches.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission quickly released a warning about the danger. 'When a child gets off the bike, take off the helmet," said Ann Brown, CPSC's chairman.

Brown said the CPSC is aware of the death of a 7 year old Canadian girl in 1997 and of four non fatal accidents in the United States in recent years.

Randy Swart, director of the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, said the danger needs to be kept in perspective.

"Obviously all parties concerned do not want to overreact to a rare accident. Helmets with strong straps have saved hundreds or thousands of lives, so these incidents must be seen in that perspective," Swart said.

BHSI, a nonprofit safety organization, is updating its bicycle safety pamphlets. The pamphlets mention the danger and warn that young children should take off their helmets when they get off their bikes. Swart also recommends that parents examine playgrounds to see if they meet the ASTM regulation. Locally-made and older equipment should be examined carefully.

Swart said the ASTM committee that develops bicycle helmets standards will discuss the problem in May at its next meeting. Swart also contacted ASTM's committee that develops playground equipment.

He said that committee is considering developing a standard warning sign for playground equipment and might include a warning to remove bike helmets before playing.

As a long term solution, Swart suggested the helmet industry develop a buckle that would hold together in a short, sharp pull, but separate after five seconds of sustained pulling.

Swart said he doesn't know if technology for such a buckle exists.

Copyright 1999 by Miller Freeman, Inc, Santa Fe, New Mexico. All rights reserved. Used with permission.