Awareness and First Aid

Wearing a good-quality helmet during extreme sports or risky tasks is important for protecting against head injuries. Sometimes, it can literally save your life.

Helmets are designed to shield your head and brain from serious impact, reducing the risk of traumatic brain injuries and skull fractures. Some helmets also offer protection for your face and chin, depending on the activity for which they’re designed, and come in varying qualities and materials.

On-the-job safety

It’s compulsory for people working in construction, mining, or other heavy-industry environments to wear safety helmets. Emergency medical services (EMS) staff are also equipped with helmets, says ER24 paramedic Ugan Dirkse of East Metro branch, Somerset West. In EMS, they serve the additional purpose of making the paramedics visible to others, while displaying their level of expertise – the letters BLS for Basic Life Support, ILS for Intermediate Life Support, or ALS for Advanced Life Support are emblazoned on the helmet.

Sports protection

Cyclists, skateboarders, and bikers all need to take extra precautions when travelling on public roads. Even off-road, a helmet can save a cyclist’s head from a nasty fall against a rock or other hard surface. Helmets for cyclists and skateboarders generally have an ABS or polycarbonate plastic outer shell, durable enough to withstand falls and crashes. The main impact-absorbing material is usually a moulded block of polystyrene foam to provide skull and brain protection. 

Dirkse says skateboarders should wear an appropriate skate-style helmet specifically designed for their sport, even if they’re skating in a skate park. This is because the helmet is specifically designed to protect the back of the skull. “Skateboarders tend to fall backwards as the board flies out in front of them. If you smash that part of your head against concrete, you will come off second best,” he warns.

Protection for motorcyclists

Because they travel at faster speeds than cyclists and skateboarders, scooter riders and motorcyclists are at an even greater risk on the road. “Some of the worst injuries we as ER24 paramedics see on the roads involve delivery drivers on scooters or small motorbikes. Usually, they’re responsible for purchasing their own safety gear and sometimes they skimp on the cost of a helmet, which is an expensive item. They buy a cheap or second-hand model, which can be very dangerous.”

Dirkse explains that if a helmet is scratched, dented or cracked, it is useless. “Once any kind of helmet has been involved in an accident and experienced impact, the integrity of the helmet is compromised, and it should not be used again.”

He also warns against wearing the old-fashioned, partially protective helmets favoured by some bikers, which don’t provide any chin or face protection. “A motorcyclist’s helmet isn’t just a hard hat for skull protection; it’s also crucial for the rider’s visibility. Some motorbike helmets come with single or dual visors to provide protection from the sun or flying objects, such as insects. Quite a few bike accidents we attend are a result of the biker hitting oncoming traffic after being blinded by the sun because they didn’t have a visor.”

Good motorbike and sports helmets also have a wide front brim to protect riders from frontal facial injuries, while all motorcycling helmets should include chin protection and neck protection.

Growing head-safety awareness

“A proper helmet can save your life,” Dirkse emphasises, recalling an incident in which a motorcyclist, fortunately wearing a high-quality safety helmet, was knocked off his bike and into the side of a car. “His helmet left a significant dent in the car door, but his head was completely fine. This is why it’s so important for bikers to wear decent helmets.”

Dirkse feels that people are thankfully becoming more aware of the importance of helmets. “When I go to work in the morning, I see a growing number of cyclists wearing helmets,” he says. “Awareness of the need for helmets has certainly grown in the past two or three decades, including among cycling commuters. Accidents happen very quickly, and it’s best to be prepared and protected.”

In any emergency, call ER24 on 084 124 for real help, real fast.

Click here to read the remarkable patient success story of motorcyclist Chris Jurgens.