Over the past 15 – 20 years, arena safety has focused on protecting the spectator from injury, resulting in higher shielding and end netting in virtually all arenas. Most new facilities also now include side netting wherever there is spectator seating.

Recently media coverage has started to focus on player safety, with several recent news articles, court cases, and movies highlighting the importance of protecting the players in all sports, who are more likely to be at risk of significant injury than anyone sitting in the stands.

Better helmets and padding, breakaway goals, changes to the rules, the introduction of concussion and medical protocols, and even some rinks painting a “warning track” on the ice around hockey boards shows signs that sporting groups are beginning to take reducing player injuries much more seriously. There is however, one major part of the problem that is not receiving the attention it deserves, and that is the hockey dasher boards themselves.

Dasher Manufacturers and Professional leagues are rising to the challenge of reducing player injuries by developing several products specifically with player safety in mind. Aluminum Frames, Flexible Dashers that are being designed and built to meet specific and independently tested performance criteria, Flexible Glass, Smaller Profiled Mullions, Collapsible Top Sill, Curved Acrylic Terminations, and the use of Acrylic Shielding all make the game safer. Unfortunately most community Ice Rink Operators have been slow to incorporate these changes into their facilities.

The International Ice Hockey Federation recently released the results of a 7 year study concluding that 63% of all shoulder injuries are the result of contact with the dasher boards. They also concluded that there were fewer concussions,  a general reduction in all types of player injuries, and a 29% decrease in injuries overall where flexible boards and glass were used. This is significant, and clearly shows that improvements in dasher board design can have a direct impact on the health and safety of the players.

What does this mean? Well, it may mean that arenas who upgrade their dasher systems without incorporating some of the new safety features may end up facing the same type of litigation that came when spectators were injured in facilities without proper safety netting. A recent conversation with a US based law firm indicates that this may be about to happen in the very near future.

The Ontario Recreation Facility Association (ORFA) Guidelines for Ice Arena Safety Netting advises that the facility operator owes a duty to persons entering the premises that they are reasonably safe and that that duty applies to both the condition of the premises and the activities on the premises. Therefore, is it not reasonable to suggest that this duty of care applies to the dasher board systems as well as the netting? If so, Recreation Administrators, Spec Writers, and Buyers may be well advised to review their insurance, and ensure that they give adequate weight in their facility reviews and purchasing requirements to incorporating dasher safety features.

Opting for safety features over the lowest price and low bid should be carefully considered to ensure that player safety takes precedence over budget considerations. Would anyone today buy a car without airbags just because it was cheaper!

As an industry we owe it to our participants and user groups to take the lead on this, to do the right thing, and to make our facilities as safe possible. Failing to do so may have serious financial implications.

Perry Coleman
RecSporT Products Ltd.