The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) has clarified its stance regarding voiding of certification for helmets to which third-party after-market products have been affixed.
Instead of automatically voiding the certification, NOCSAE will now leave it up to helmet manufacturers to decide whether a particular third-party add-on affixed to the helmet, such as a impact sensor, voids its certification.
The helmet manufacturer can also decide, NOCSAE says, to engage in additional certification testing of the new model and certify the new model with the add-on product, but it is not required to do so.
The new NOCSAE position allows for companies which make add-on products for football helmets to make their own certification of compliance with the NOCSAE standards on a helmet model, as long as the certification is done according to NOCSAE standards, and as long as the manufacturer assumes responsibility (in other words, potential legal liability) for the helmet/add-on combination.
It also exempts from coverage products such as skull caps (MC10/Reebok's Checklight, Guardian Cap), headbands, mouth guards (i1 Biometric's Hammerhead), ear inserts or other items that are not attached or incorporated in some way into the helmet.
The clarification comes in the wake of criticism from the third-party manufacturers, particularly those who make lightweight impact sensors, and some safety advocates, including MomsTEAM's Brooke de Lench.
Full text of NOCSAE statement
OVERLAND PARK, Kansas - August 8, 2013 - The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) has released the following statement regarding equipment certified to NOCSAE standards and add-on helmet products.
"Products designed to be added to a football helmet are being marketed and sold; some are intended to measure impacts, while others are expressly marketed as improving a helmet's performance. Some products claim the ability to protect against concussions. Regardless of the truth of such claims, the addition of those products to a certified helmet changes the model, by definition, under the NOCSAE standards.
"For many years NOCSAE standards have defined a helmet model as a helmet "intended to be identical in every way, except for size." Any changes, additions or alterations of the model, except for size, color or graphics, even if made by the original manufacturer, require that a new model name be created and a separate certification testing process begin for that new model. This concept of limiting certification to a specific model is commonly found in national and international helmet standards.
- NOCSAE itself does not certify any product, it does not "approve" or "disapprove" of any product, and has no authority to grant exemptions or waivers to the requirements imposed by the standards it writes.
- The addition of an item(s) to a helmet previously certified without those item(s) creates a new untested model. Whether the add-on product changes the performance or not, the helmet model with the add-on product is no longer "identical in every aspect" to the one originally certified by the manufacturer.
- When this happens, the manufacturer which made the original certification has the right, under the NOCSAE standards, to declare its certification void. It also can decide to engage in additional certification testing of the new model and certify the new model with the add-on product, but it is not required to do so.
- Companies which make add-on products for football helmets have the right to make their own certification of compliance with the NOCSAE standards on a helmet model, but when that is done, the certification and responsibility for the helmet/third-party product combination would become theirs, (not the helmet manufacturer). That certification would be subject to the same obligations applicable to the original helmet manufacturer regarding certification testing, quality control and quality assurance and licensure with NOCSAE.
- Products such as skull caps, headbands, mouth guards, ear inserts or other items that are not attached or incorporated in some way into the helmet are not the types of products that create a new model as defined in the NOCSAE standards and are not items which change the model definition."
180 degree change of course
"I see significance in today's clarification," said Greg Merrill, CEO of Brain Sentry, a manufacturer of an impact sensor that attaches to the outside of a sports helmet which triggers an alert when the player sustains an impact exceeding a preset threshold. "I read the the [third] bullet [in the NOCSAE statement] to say that the NOCSAE certification is not void until an OEM [helmet maker] declares it void."
"When this happens, the manufacturer which made the original certification has the right, under the NOCSAE standards, to declare its certification void. It also can decide to engage in additional certification testing of the new model and certify the new model with the add-on product, but it is not required to do so."
"This is a 180 change from the original position statement that said, 'The addition of after-market items by anyone that changes or alters the protective system by adding or deleting protective padding to the inside or outside of the helmet, or which changes or alters the geometry of the shell or adds mass to the helmet, whether temporary or permanent, voids the certification of compliance with the NOCSAE standard.""
Merrill was one of three CEOs of impact sensor companies who sent a joint e-mail to NOCSAE after its July 16, 2013 statement issued in which they asked the organization, which is funded with fees helmet manufacturers pay for the right to display a NOCSAE sticker on their helmets, to reconsider its stance on third-party add-ons.
NOCSAE's original ruling appears to have scared some teams, coaches and at least one state high school athletic association (Colorado) from using some third-party products. The clarification may thus end up being too little, too late.
Because the clarified rule gives helmet company OEMs the right to decide for themselves whether a 3rd party add-on voids their certification, which they can cite to justify instituting blanket statements voiding certification, it could also be viewed as a case of NOCSAE offering the third-party add-on companies the sleeves off the helmet manufacturers' vests.
Thus, whether the damage may already have been done remains to be seen.
For Brooke de Lench's comprehensive article about NOCSAE's original statement on helmet add-ons, click here.
For an article answering frequently asked questions about impact sensors, click here.