Ski helmets lack mandatory Canadian safety rules

Skiers and snowboarders in Canada are increasingly turning to helmets for protection as they hit the slopes. But the helmets they buy aren't governed by any mandatory Canadian safety standards, which concerns at least one safety advocate.

According to the Canadian Ski Council, the number of skiers and snowboarders regularly wearing helmets when they head to the hill is on the rise. A February 2012 online survey conducted for the organization suggested that more than 80 per cent of skiers and snowboarders regularly wore helmets.

At Snow Valley in Edmonton, Rhonda Ross's two young daughters are sporting brightly coloured helmets. Ross says she bought the helmets just days ago, but didn't check to see if they met a safety standard.

"We don’t really know what the standards are, but we know that it's brand new," she says.

Ross's helmet, like many others sold on Canadian shelves, meets standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials, which describes itself as a leader in the "development and delivery of international voluntary consensus standards."

In 2008, the non-profit Canadian Standards Association (CSA) came out with a blueprint for what's believed to be an even safer helmet – one that can withstand multiple impacts. The standard specified areas of the head protected from impact. They also set stability, shock absorption and labelling requirements, among others.

The standard, which was not made mandatory for manufacturers, is now under review.

Documents obtained from Health Canada through access to information show that since the 2008 standards were unveiled, no companies have come to the CSA seeking to have their product certified.

An email from Health Canada senior engineer Denis Roy to Patricia Pelletier, manager of the risk assessment division of the consumer product safety directorate at Health Canada, cites two reasons for the lack of applicants.

According to Roy's email, the first reason is that meeting the "standard as currently written is difficult."

The second reason, Roy says, is that companies "appear unwilling to invest in the development of helmets that would meet a ‘made for Canada’ standard unless they are required by law."

Richard Kinar, a spokesman for the Brain Injury Association of Canada, was part of the committee that came up with the standard that is now under review.

He says the fear is that the standard is being watered down.

"The government is letting our children down, and parents that are wanting to help protect their kids’ health."

The federal government is participating in the standard review and results are expected to be made public later next year.

In the meantime, Health Canada says it encourages all skiers and boarders to wear a helmet.

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