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BETA Voices Concern Over Hat Research

The British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) has hit out following a story in a national newspaper at the weekend that claims most riding hats 'fail to protect' their riders. This is simply not true.

The implication of by ENHAP (Equestrian New Helmet Assessment Programme) have been strongly refuted by BETA and leading riding hat manufacturers who feel the story will cause unnecessary fear and uncertainty over safety issues in the minds of the thousands of people who ride in the UK.

At all times, BETA encourages tests and trials aimed at making riding safer for all, but is seriously concerned about the claims and implications of the ENHAP results which are, at best, meaningless and, at worst, will cause greater rider confusion.

Despite numerous attempts to obtain representation on the working party that established the testing protocols, BETA as a representative of both the manufacturing and retail trade, was excluded. Indeed, the working party did not even attempt to seek any type of advice from manufacturers, who between them, have over 156 years of equestrian safety heritage. Manufacturers have also invested a considerable amount of money ensuring rider safety is to the highest of British standards through the BSI kitemark. The kitemark guarantees that hats have been produced to the stringent standards through a series of independent tests (this means, on average, one riding hat is tested every single working day of the year).

BETA Chief Executive and Secretary Claire Williams said: "The article that appeared has factual inaccuracies and there is the danger that it could cause unnecessary concern amongst riders and parents.

"Manufacturers already invest thousands of pounds per annum in the development of new and safer hats, including new methods to test their safety. These tests are carried out to the highest of standards and involvement in the development of ENHAP would have opened the working party up to many years of experience. Working together, we could have achieved a more rounded and accurate programme."

A number of concerns have been raised by manufacturers directly in regard to ENHAP.

"We still do not feel that Star ratings are the best way of indicating the safety of a hat," continues Ms Williams. " We are concerned that if decisions are based solely on these ratings, then the standard that the hat meets or the purpose for which it was intended may become secondary factors, creating the potential for a higher incidence of accidents."

According to Dr Michael Whitlock, Consultant in Accident and Emergency and Medical Adviser to CEN for Protective Sports Equipment, it is meaningless to say that a 3-star rating is better than a 1-star rating because it depends on the standard to which the hat is made, the accident that could occur and whether or not the hat fits correctly.

Research undertaken by Dr Whitlock reveals that the incidence of head injuries has decreased dramatically since 1995. This is a direct result of the introduction of standards like EN1384 and PAS 15 which replaced the existing standards. Continued education amongst riders to ensure that they are wearing properly fitted hats designed to the recognised standards, is therefore imperative.

BETA has also expressed concern on a number of other points with regard to the testing.

" The ENHAP research was undertaken without a penetration test which is a feature of both the EN1384 and PAS 15. However, a crush test, which is still in development and is as yet unproven, was included although we understand that the results were withdrawn in the final stages.

" All of the hats tested as part of the ENHAP research are approved to the recognised European or American standards.

" Of the 55 hats tested for side impact, only 15 then underwent a full testing through all eight controlled tests. These 15 are then compared with the other 40 on the same footing. Some of these forty may therefore have scored better had they been tested using some of the other parameters.

" The ENHAP testing is on three sizes only in the final round, rather than a full range and is a one-off field trial process. This is compared with the Kitemark procedure whereby all hats are tested on an ongoing basis and on a wider range of sizes to guarantee that they are completely up to the British safety standards.

" The variability of these results emphases the importance of constant testing. This is highlighted by the fact that two of the helmets tested which are identical in manufacture and different only in label have achieved different star ratings.

Concludes Ms Williams: "BETA is committed to supporting all initiatives which are aimed at improving safety standards but the association is genuinely concerned that the ENHAP findings are confusing and may be misunderstood. The riding hats in the research have been subjected to tests that they were not designed to meet and the overall picture which has emerged from the testing does not give a true picture of the standards or current situation.

"The aim, at all times, should be to encourage riders to keep improving their riding hats, and to encourage them to purchase new, up-to-date models which have achieved the highest of standards throughout testing and research. Through years of experience, we know that if riders are confused about safety, they are less likely to change their hat. As an industry, we recommend that hats are changed on a three to five year basis, unless they have been involved in an accident, in which case they should be changed immediately. There are so many factors that can influence a correctly fitting hat - a simple change in hair style, a drop on the floor or natural head growth can all alter the correct fit of a hat.

"Ultimately we are concerned that the ENHAP results will make purchasing more of a minefield for consumers and the retailers trying to provide appropriate advice. As a result of this, we will find that riders will take the easy option and opt to continue using their current model, rather than considering what is the best option for their own safety."


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