Dal arena to require helmets

Manager says safety more important than risk of revenue loss

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Photo: Corey Davison

As of January 1, 2010, all public skaters using the Dalhousie Memorial Arena will be required to wear a helmet before being allowed on the ice.

The first facility in Nova Scotia to make wearing a helmet mandatory, this rule will assist in the prevention and reduction of head and brain injuries.

Kathie Wheadon-Hore, Senior Manager of Facilities at the Dalplex, says this change was prompted by a note last year from Dr. David B. Clarke, one of the leading neurosurgeons in the province.

"He was ‘appalled' that even our staff didn't have helmets on."

Also a professor at Dalhousie University, Clarke's criticism was taken seriously.

Although it is mandatory for cyclists, skateboarders and in-line skaters to wear a helmet under the Motor Vehicle Act, it is not mandatory for ice-skating.

Research done by American pediatricians shows however, that ice-skating is found to produce three times as many head injuries than any of these road-related activities.

This is because ice is a hard and slippery surface. It does not provide the same support or stability as pavement does for when a person falls.

Clarke and his research co-ordinators have been working with Wheadon-Hore on the helmet issue since the beginning of the summer.

Wheadon-Hore invited Clarke to the Maritime Recreation Facilities Conference in June to discuss their course of action for the fall.

"There were about 25 facility operators in the room and they all agreed that wearing helmets was the right thing to do, but because recreation facilities have such a hard time making enough money to cover expenses, a lot of them are really, really reluctant to do anything they think would hurt their revenues."

One public skate session at Dalhousie Memorial Arena brings in approximately $20 on a weekday and $150 on a Sunday. While this profit is important for the operation and repairs of arena, Wheadon-Hore isn't worried about the money.

"The first year you introduce new change there's always resistance and we may lose some revenue next semester. But my response to the folks [who won't wear a helmet] will be, ‘Look, I would sooner lose the revenue from these skates than lose you.'"

In addition to her own personal beliefs on this matter, Wheadon-Hore has been collaborating with two fourth-year Dalhousie nursing students, Jessica Heaton and Lisa Sangster.

Having investigated this issue for a month already, Heaton and Sangster are recording the approximate age and sex of each skater, as well as how many people already wear protective headgear to public skating.

"We also keep track of the falls," says Heaton, as she sets up a display in the arena to provide information to the community on brain injuries.

"We not only note the age and the sex of the person that falls, but we look at how they fall and at what extremity hits the ice first."

Although Heaton and Sanster agree this change in policy is a good idea based on their research, others feel that making a helmet mandatory is a little too extreme.

"I used to do this job in high school and I've never seen any head injuries that are that serious," says third-year student and arena employee, Emma Teitel.

"I sort of understand why they're implementing this new rule because I assume it's a hassle to clean someone's head guts off the ice, but I don't think that's going to happen [...] It's just my personal belief that if you want to endanger yourself, you should be allowed to."

Where this change is enough to deter some skaters from coming to the public skate sessions, Ron McDonald isn't surprised or upset. He still plans to come twice a week as usual.

"It's a good safety concern. You gotta take care of people. I guess in January I'll just bring my helmet."

If a skater does not have a CSA approved hockey helmet they will not be permitted on the ice.

Wheadon-Hore says while the arena will not be supplying helmets to public skaters, she is taking socio-economic issues into account.

"We're considering a plan right now where if a skater shows up in the first couple weeks without a helmet or without an approved helmet, we'll maybe give them five free passes to skate so they can save up their admission money and put that towards proper headgear."

If attendance is extremely low and there is no longer a demand for public skating due to this new policy, the ice time will be made available for hockey.

Although revenues generated from hockey are guaranteed, Wheadon-Hore hopes this won't be the end result.

"We have to give this a try. We may not always make the right decisions but if this helps save one person, if it helps save one of our students, then to me, it's worth it."

 

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Posted by Rebecca Nesdale-Tucker | Dec 17, 2021