A new star rating system can help hockey players to know just how well each helmet on the market can protect them from suffering head injuries and concussions during the course of a season. The "Hockey STAR" (Summation of Tests for the Analysis of Risk) rating is an extension of a similar rating system developed for football helmets. It was developed by researchers from Virginia Tech in the US, led by Bethany Rowson, and reported on in Springer's journal Annals of Biomedical Engineering.
More ice hockey players suffer concussion while playing hockey than their counterparts in football. It is the most common injury for women's collegiate ice hockey, and the second most common for men's. Current safety standards for hockey helmets have changed little in the past 50 years since they were first introduced to reduce the incidence of serious head injuries and deaths associated with the sport.
Today, most hockey helmets bear stickers representing certification by three different organizations: the Hockey Equipment Certification Council (HECC), the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). These standards are represented by a CE marking. These stickers symbolize whether a helmet is able or not to reduce the risk of catastrophic head injuries. However, these markings do not provide consumers with objective information about which hockey helmets provide better protection than others against both serious and milder injuries, such as concussions, or head acceleration upon impact.
In addressing this matter, the Virginia Tech team took their lead from the Football STAR evaluation system. It was introduced in 2011 to provide such information about football helmets. Since its release, the number of helmets receiving the highest safety rating possible of 5 stars has risen from just one to a total of 12 helmets in 2014.
Rowson's team extended and updated Football STAR by, among other actions, taking into account that hockey players on average suffer 227 head impacts per season. Different intensities and areas of impact were also tested during their laboratory simulations of different types of helmets. A Hockey STAR value was assigned to the helmets based on each one's ability to protect a player from concussion.
Only hockey helmets that have already been certified by the Hockey Equipment Certification Council will be tested with this system. Rowson foresees that consumers will use it when deciding which hockey helmet to buy, and especially when they weigh up just how well the different options on offer will be able to reduce their risk of suffering concussion.
"This will drive manufacturers to advance hockey helmet design to reduce concussion risk," hopes Rowson, who notes that no helmet can completely protect a player from all head injuries.
Rowson, B. et al (2015). Hockey STAR: A Methodology for Assessing the Biomechanical Performance of Hockey Helmets, Annals of Biomedical Engineering