Understanding helmet standards

There is a riding helmet for everyone – whether you choose something plain or with loads of bling, something inexpensive or at the top of the price range, it does not matter. The main things to consider are that it must meet an accepted safety standard, must have a certification (quality assurance) mark, and must fit properly (the latter requirement will be explained in a future issue).

Understanding helmet standards

What are helmet safety standards?

Helmet standards are written safety requirements set up in different parts of the world (by an appointed technical committee or society), which manufacturers must adhere to when producing riding helmets. Setting up safety standards requires a tremendous amount of work – the ASTM F1163, for instance, took four years to write and had input from a huge range of specialists, with hundreds of people finally arriving at a consensus as to its provisions.

In drawing up these standards, various injury scenarios are examined, such as falling from a height, being struck by a hoof, falling on a hard surface such as concrete or a sharply angled metal edge, being dragged after falling, or being crushed under a horse. These possible scenarios are replicated in a laboratory by fastening a helmet to a number of different sized and weighted metal ‘heads’, which are then subjected to drops from a given height onto a number of differently shaped anvils to replicate different types of riding falls onto different surfaces. Computer sensors measure the shock from the fall that is transferred to the inside of the helmet in terms of gravity force (g). Other objects (such as a spike) can be dropped on the metal head to replicate penetrating injuries, and the restraining straps (harnesses) are tested separately to ensure they do not allow the helmet to be pulled or rolled off.

Standards vary in that some put more emphasis on the ability of the helmet to prevent the most severe types of head injuries a rider may experience, and some focus more on protecting against the more common injuries. Some standards might specify bigger heights from which the metal head must be dropped, some might test different sized helmets, and others might test under different climatic conditions. Thus, the more standards a helmet meets, the more types of injuries it has protection against.

While some standards (such as PAS) are reviewed every two years, others (such as the European standards) are reviewed every five years or following a complaint about their efficacy. Although a review does not necessarily lead to a new standard, a new standard eventually emerges every 10 years or so.

Which helmet standards are currently recognised?

The major helmet standards are ASTM F1163 (US), PAS 015:2011 (Great Britain), (BS)EN 1384 and VG1 (Europe), Snell E2001 (international), and AS/NZS 3838 (Australasia).

  1. ASTM F1163:2004a onwards: United States standard set by the American Society for Testing and Materials.
  2. PAS 015:2011: The Products Approval Specification is a British standard.
  3. EN 1384:1996 or BSEN 1384:1997: Previously widely used joint British/European standard, with the BS prefix symbolising that it has been tested in Britain. This is the basic minimum standard for almost all forms of riding.
  4. VG1 01.040:2014-12: Interim ‘bolt-on’ standard released by the EU commission until the (BS)EN 1384 standard revision is made.
  5. Snell E2001: International standard developed in America by the Snell institute.
  6. AS/NZS 3838:2003 onwards: Australasian standard.

At the end of 2014, the European Commission withdrew the European riding helmet standard EN 1384 (British equivalent BSEN 1384), when the technical committee failed to agree on a new specification to update and replace it (one of the ongoing discussion points being the thickness of the helmet). A new European guideline to replace (BS)EN 1384 is in the pipeline, but it is not known when it will be finalised. This move has affected mainly competitive riders in some countries like Britain and Australia, where helmets that only comply with (BS)EN 1384 are not allowed in some competitive settings anymore, and helmets need to meet additional standards such as PAS, VG1, ASTM or Snell. Riders who do not compete in these countries are not affected by this withdrawal, and can continue to buy and use helmets made to the (BS)EN standard – which has saved many lives over the years.

Text: Elmarie Janse Van Rensburg

The full article appears in the December issue (117) of HQ magazine > Shop now