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ASTM Committee F08 on Sports Equipment and Facilities Celebrates Its 35th Anniversary

by C.A. “Dewey” Morehouse

ASTM International’s Committee F08 on Sports Equipment and Facilities was established as an outcome of a small conference on American football injuries held in the fall of 1968. There was considerable concern among the invited attendees regarding the number of injuries in competitive sports, particularly in football, which was ranked seventh among the most hazardous of the activities rated by the then-recently established U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Of particular concern was the number of catastrophic injuries — deaths and paraplegia. ASTM was considered an ideal organization for the coordination and cooperation of various groups in an effort to reduce the problem and risks of major trauma in competitive sports.

The first formal organizational meeting of Committee F08 was held Sept. 15-16, 1969, at ASTM Headquarters in Philadelphia, Pa. The initial structure of the committee consisted of six subcommittees on statistics, game rules, playing surfaces, body and extremities, and head and neck. A total of 74 individuals attended this first meeting and 55 persons joined ASTM, making up the original membership of F08. The scope of the committee was approved as:

The standardization of specifications, test methods and recommended practices for sports equipment and related materials to minimize injury. Promotion of knowledge as it relates to protective equipment standards and coordination of this work with other ASTM technical committees and other organizations in this area.1

It required nearly three years but finally, in 1972, F08 published its first standard, F 355, Test Method for Shock Absorbing Properties of Playing Surface Systems. This standard described a unique impact machine capable of determining the shock attenuation characteristics of playing surfaces, including artificial turfs used for football fields, mats for wrestling, soccer fields and playgrounds.

As stated earlier, the initial emphasis of Committee F08 was on the injury problems in football and particularly catastrophic head injuries. Some members thought the development of a helmet standard would be a relatively easy undertaking since only a few years previously in 1966 a committee of the American National Standards Institute had developed an approved standard for protective headgear for motorcycle users.2 However, after some deliberation, F08 members began to realize the situations of motorcyclists and football players were quite different. In the case of motorcycle accidents it was necessary to protect against one massive impact. Football players, on the other hand, were subjected to multiple impacts of a much less violent nature. Also, the lack of objective scientific medical data on human tolerances and the considerable variability of football players’ sizes and experiences only complicated the process. Eventually, however, F08 approved the standard F 429, Test Method for Shock Attenuation Characteristics of Protective Headgear for Football.

First Subcommittee Reorganization

By 1973, F08 committee membership had increased to 209 members and several new subcommittees had been formed, including ski safety, gymnastics, fencing and wrestling. The committee bylaws were revised to bring them up to date with Society requirements, and the scope of F08 was altered to include all sports rather than only football.3 An ad hoc committee was appointed to determine if a different organizational structure would be more appropriate. It recommended that the committee be renamed F08 on Sports Equipment and Facilities and that a matrix-type structure with administrative, activity and functional subcommittees be adopted. At the time, the activity subcommittees included football, gymnastics, wrestling, fencing and skiing. The functional subcommittees included test methods, medical aspects and biomechanics, playing surfaces and facilities, headgear, footwear, padding and apparel, and shoe surface interface, basic areas that applied to one or more sports activities. The administrative subcommittees, which served the operational needs of F08, covered executive, statistical, editorial and definitions, finance, publicity and symposia, and membership recruitment functions. These recommendations for reorganization were approved by the executive committee and the full committee membership at its first meeting in 1974.

Establishment of U.S. TAGs

By the end of 1973 the skiing subcommittee had increased their membership to 112 individuals, over 50 percent of the total committee membership, and had five active task groups working on standards for ski equipment, including boots, bindings and skis as well as shop practices for adjusting this equipment to protect skiers of different ages and body sizes. Some of the skiing subcommittee members, especially a few from Germany and Austria, wanted to become active in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). As a result, F08 established a U.S. technical advisory group to advise and finance an official U.S. delegation to participate in meetings of ISO Technical Committee 83 Subcommittee 3 on Ski Bindings and Boots and ISO/TC83/ SC4 on Skis. A delegation was selected and attended its first ISO subcommittee meeting on ski binding and boots in Berlin in November 1973. In subsequent years, two other U.S. TAGs have been organized within the F08 Committee — the U.S. TAGs to ISO/TC149/SC1 on Cycles and ISO/TC83/SC5 on Ice Hockey Equipment and Facilities. All three of these TAGs have been very active in representing the interests of U.S. manufacturers in the development of standards within ISO.

F08 Educational Activities

On June 26, 1974, F08 sponsored its first educational seminar in Washington, D.C.: The Female in Sports: A Focus on the Injury Problem. This topic was chosen principally due to the opportunities afforded to females in the United States because of Title IX, a federal regulation that requires that females have equal opportunities to participate in sports competition in colleges and high schools. Since this initial seminar, F08 has sponsored 17 additional symposia, seminars and workshops on a wide variety of subjects. These meetings were held to publicize and educate the public concerning the problems in the areas over which F08 has jurisdiction and the efforts being made to reduce the risk of injuries in these activities. These educational endeavors included not only the contact sports of football and ice hockey but other activities such as baseball and the risks of injuries to physically disabled athletes. In addition, there have been seminars dealing with concussions and anterior cruciate ligament injuries, to which young females are very susceptible. There have also been two seminars dealing with the role of standards in litigation procedures, which were staged as mock trials. Six of these seminars have resulted in ASTM Special Technical Publications.

Establishment of Ice Hockey Subcommittee

A new subcommittee on ice hockey equipment was added to the F08 structure at its first meeting in 1975. Within a year this subcommittee formed three task groups on helmets, face protectors and intra-oral mouthguards. A preliminary draft of a standard for face protectors was prepared and reviewed during this first year of subcommittee operation. A standard for face protectors was a priority item because a report in Canada documented a high rate of eye, facial and dental injuries during the 1969-70 hockey season.4 This was followed later by a report that during the 1974-75 season, 63 players — most of whom were not yet 20 years old — had suffered eye injuries that resulted in blindness.5

The first problem to be solved in developing this standard was to design a test method that would simulate a high-speed puck impact. At the time, puck-firing machines were available but were not sufficiently accurate to impact a specific site with the necessary degree of consistency. An acceptable solution to this problem was the use of a long plastic tube through which a weighted dart was dropped. This dart consisted of an ice hockey puck with its edge attached to a steel disc and metal rod, which impacted a face protector that was mounted on a headform and fixed so that it faced upward.

A face protector satisfying the specifications of this standard could not compromise the field of vision and yet had to possess openings small enough so that sticks or pucks were not able to penetrate it. A series of vision tests were devised that included field of vision, refractive tolerance, prism imbalance, astigmatism, luminous transmittance, haze and scotomas. These optical quality tests were necessary in order to evaluate the clear plastic eye protectors that had been recently placed on the market. The new standard, F 513, Consumer Safety Specification for Eye and Face Protector Equipment for Hockey Players, was approved in August 1977. Since this full face protector standard has been published, there have been no documented blinding injuries to players wearing this type of protector.5 The standard has been revised a number of times and it now includes a puck cannon utilizing air pressure and a computerized series of tests for quality of vision.

Formation of HECC

In 1978 the American Hockey Association of the United States (now USA Hockey), made the use of face protectors mandatory for all players in their ice hockey programs and requested that a certification program be established. As a result of this request, several F08 members and staff members of AHAUS formed the non-profit Hockey Equipment Certification Council. Currently, this organization is quite active and has four certification programs including not only one for face protectors but also others for players’ helmets, goalkeepers’ head protection and visors for players who are more than 18 years of age. These certification programs include annual tests according to ASTM standard specifications and an annual audit of manufacturers’ facilities.

USA Hockey requires all participants in their sanctioned programs from the 5- and 6-year-olds to the Olympic Hockey Team to wear HECC–certified equipment. The National Collegiate Athletic Association and the National Federation of State High School Associations also mandate the use of HECC-certified equipment in their programs. HECC certifies over one million items of ice hockey equipment annually. Consumers are able to recognize this certified equipment by the HECC labels that are attached. Since the HECC certified program for full face protectors has been adopted, the number of eye, facial and dental injuries in ice hockey has been reduced by over 99 percent. The more than 42,000 injuries to the face and eyes that were prevented by the use of full face protectors from 1978 to 1984 saved society over $60 million in medical expenses without taking into account the pain and suffering and the loss of playing time by athletes.6 This savings has probably quadrupled in the last 20 years.

Subcommittee on Racquet Sports

During the 1960s and early 1970s, racquetball and squash became very popular at colleges, universities, athletic clubs and YMCAs. Playing these fast-paced games in confined areas led to many injuries, including eye injuries from balls and racquets. In fact, the National Society to Prevent Blindness estimated in 1989 there were 70,000 to 80,000 eye injuries annually, including many cases of blindness, to participants in racquetball, squash, badminton and tennis.7 Recognizing this as a national problem, F08 established a subcommittee on eye safety for racquet sports. Its initial goal was to write a standard for eye protectors. However, the data on ball velocities were not available. Without this information, it was impossible to test the many models available at that time and determine which of these protectors offered adequate protection for participants.

A research project, which was conducted by the Sports Research Institute at Penn State University, generated these velocities and with this information the subcommittee wrote F 803, Specifications for Eye Protectors for Use By Players of Racquet Sports. This document provided a short description of four types of eye protectors:

• Type I — A protector with a lens and front piece molded as one unit;
• Type II — A protector with a lens, either plano or prescription, with a separate frame;
• Type III — A protector without a lens; and
• Type IV — A full face shield to be worn over normal glasses.

Subsequent testing revealed that the lensless protectors were completely inadequate because the balls deformed when they struck the protector and consequently impacted the eyeball. The U.S. Squash Racquets Association mandated in May 1987 that eye protectors with lenses be worn by participants in all sanctioned tournaments. They also recommended that the lenses be made of polycarbonate and be at least 3 mm thick at the center. The American Amateur Racquetball Association followed with a similar mandate in December 1987. Finally, after one failed attempt, the Protective Eyewear Certification Council was formed as a volunteer nonprofit organization in August 1997. This organization was nearly identical to the model presented by HECC for ice hockey. This council is not only concerned with eye protection for racquet sports but with eye protection for all sports.

Standards for Paintball

During the 1980s, paintball became a popular recreational activity but players soon sustained a significant number of eye injuries while participating in this activity. The American Paintball Association sought out F08, requesting that the committee develop an eye protector standard specifically for paintball. This inquiry and the subsequent standard helped to save this recreational activity from its demise by eliminating the potential eye injury epidemic. It is assumed that the request came as a result of the successes of the eye protector standards in reducing eye injuries for ice hockey and racquet sports.

A standard for eye protectors for paintball was published in 1997 and the paintball subcommittee subsequently produced nine additional standards for paintballs, markers, paintball guns and other accessories used in this recreational activity in order to reduce the potential risk of serious injuries.

35 Years of Progress

Between 1990 and 1994 a number of subcommittees for various recreational activities were added to the F08 organization. These included subcommittees for archery, fitness products, golf club shafts, trampolines, basketball equipment, child bicycle seats, climbing and mountaineering, sleeping bags, the female athlete, baseball/softball equipment and tree stands for hunters. Over its 35 years of existence the membership of F08 on Sports Equipment and Facilities has grown from its original 55 to over 600 in 2004. F08 was formed in 1969 with six subcommittees, which has increased to 31 subcommittees responsible for standards for a wide variety of sports and recreational activities. Included among the more recent activities are task groups working on standards for headgear for pole vaulters, soccer and rodeo participants. The committee has written over 110 approved standards in addition to many revisions, which is an ongoing process. //

References

1 ASTM Yearbook, 1970, pp. 404-405.
2 American National Standards Institute, Z90.1-1996 American Standards for Protective Headgear for Vehicular Users. Approved June 22, 1966, and revision approved August 26, 1971.
3 ASTM Yearbook, 1973, pp. 473-474.
4 Castaldi, C.R. “A Decade of Progress in Committee F-8 on Sports Equipment and Facilities,” ASTM Standardization News, Volume 13, Number 10, October 1985.
5 Pashby, Tom, “Epidemiology of Eye Injuries in Hockey,” Safety in Ice Hockey, STP 1050, Editors, C.R. Castaldi and Earl F. Hoerner, American Society for Testing and Materials, Philadelphia, PA, 1989, pp. 29-31.
6 Vinger, Paul, et al. “The Ice Hockey Face Guard: Health Care Costs and Ethics,” Safety in Ice Hockey, STP 1050, Editors C.R. Castaldi and Earl F. Hoerner, American Society for Testing and Materials, Philadelphia, PA, 1989, pp. 58-62.
7 Hall, E., “Eye Safety is No Accident,” Sight Saving Review, Volume 8, Number 3, The National Society to Prevent Blindness, New York, NY, Spring 1989.

Copyright 2004, ASTM International

C.A. “Dewey” Morehouse is a professor emeritus of Penn State University where he was director of the Sport Research Institute. Morehouse was a founding member of F08 and has served the committee as membership secretary, first vice chair and chair. Currently he is chair of F08.97, the U.S. TAG for Ice Hockey, and is head of the U.S. delegation to ISO/TC83/SC5 on Ice Hockey Equipment and Facilities.