UAB reminder: Wear a helmet when severe weather looms

UAB injury science researchers again recommend the use of protective helmets during periods of severe weather.

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Scientists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) recommend a helmet to help prevent head and neck injury during times of severe weather. In 2012, following the devastating tornados that tore across Alabama the previous year, scientists at the UAB Injury Control Research Center (ICRC) published a research-driven commentary suggesting that helmets may prevent injury or death in severe weather situations and should be an essential addition to an individual’s tornado-safety preparations.

In the commentary, the researchers recommend “the use of any helmet, or head covering made of a hard material and worn to protect the head from injury, stored in an easily and readily accessible location in the home, workplace or vehicle for which one of its purposes is to be worn in the event of or threat of tornadic activity.”

They describe a safety helmet as any structurally sound helmet, such as a motorcycle helmet, football helmet, baseball helmet, bicycle helmet, skateboard helmet, or even a construction hardhat; as long as the helmet’s original intended purpose is to minimize anatomical damage sustained as a result of high-velocity impacts.

“The ideal tornado helmet would be a full-sized racing-style motorcycle helmet with a full-face shield, as it provides complete head and face protections and is designed to minimize neck injury,” said Gerald McGwin, Ph.D., director of the ICRC. “But any helmet is better than no helmet at all.”

Alabama is the nationwide leader in tornado-related deaths, with 412 fatalities recorded since 1980, demonstrating the need for a readily available, low-cost intervention to reduce risk, McGwin said.

According to the medical examiner’s office in Jefferson County, Ala., at least 11 of the 21 fatalities in the county in the wake of the massive April 27, 2011, tornado outbreak resulted from head or neck injuries.

“The ideal tornado helmet would be a full-sized racing-style motorcycle helmet with a full-face shield, as it provides complete head and face protections and is designed to minimize neck injury,” said Gerald McGwin, Ph.D., director of the ICRC. “But any helmet is better than no helmet at all.”

The ICRC commentary stresses that research has shown that most tornado-associated injuries and deaths result when people or solid objects become airborne and most victims suffer multiple traumatic injuries, including those to the head and neck. Head injuries have a statistically higher case-fatality rate of 23 percent, versus the 3 percent case-fatality rate of all other injuries combined.

“The use of helmets is a cheap, easily accessible strategy that can help save lives, and we urge all people living in tornado-prone areas to include suitable safety helmets in their tornado-preparation materials,” said McGwin.

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