If you are a USPA member, you will have received the notice below last week. The notice concerns the "magnetic buckles on certain NOCSAE-compliant helmets manufactured by Casablanca", and annouces a rule variance that allows players to play in non-compliant helmets while waiting to have the buckle replaced by Casablanca or a new helmet delivered.
Many of us have heard of cases, when someone's helmet came off during a fall. In January, Michael Dorignac, playing with Slava Polo in Wellington, lost his helmet as he hit the deck, got knocked unconscious and suffered various head injuries. It is Michel's good fortune that he has recovered and is now back in the saddle. His accident, at least in part, seems to have prompted the USPA notice.
So what is the problem with the Casablanca buckle?
The two standards used to test and certify polo helmets, PAS015 in the UK and NOCSAE in the US, both test helmet retention. The test is basically a test of the minimum force that the chin strap and buckle assembly is required to withstand without breaking. There is no evidence that the known cases of lost helmets were caused by failures of the straps or the buckles. However, neither testing regime tests for accidental opening of the buckle, which demonstrates that standard rarely cover all bases.
The key issue is that Casablanca uses a buckle, whose parts open and close by sliding
laterally, which means that it can be released by a brushing or glancing stroke. How do we know this? Well, the British brand Armis Polo used the same buckle, when they
launched their first polo helmet in the UK in 2017 (certified to PAS015). Armis Polo also experienced a series of incidents with players losing their helmets during falls. When it became clear that the sideways sliding mechanism could be released by accident, it was swiftly replaced by a traditional buckle. Against this backdrop, it does make you wonder, why Casablance would claim to be the first to use this buckle and why they didnt' learn from the the Armis experience.
The problem is not so much the buckle itself, but the fact that this particular buckle type can be brushed open by accident!
There's an important lesson in this, which is that standards while giving us some degree of assurance that a product does what it says on the label rarely address all eventualities. Obviously, it is then incumbent on players, associations and manufacturers to fill the holes in those standards.
We have made a deliberate choice to only market the Instinct helmet (other brands may be added to our lineup, if and when we are sufficiently convinced of their credentials). We have four years experience with the Instinct helmet over three generations, and almost no incidents (the chin strap and buckle assembly used on the current helmet hasn't changed since the first generation and several thousand polo helmets in the field provide us with a convincing performance record).
Please get in touch with Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org or WhatsApp/mobile: +44-7487-548242, if you would like to order a customised Instinct polo helmet.
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