A renewed, misguided ASTM attempt to change surfacing standards, a Guardian editorial and risk-benefit assessment

‘Bicycle helmets save lives’ a Guardian editorial pointed out today (27.09.2016) referrencing recent Australian research.

The editorial then posed the question:  Should wearing cycle helmets be made compulsory?  Now read on for the editorial’s succinct explication of a form of reasoning we have come to know as risk-benefit assessment.

‘From the point of view of accident reduction, the answer is entirely clear. Helmets do prevent some head injuries, and these can be very serious even when they are not immediately fatal. On the other hand, they are extremely rare. You would have to cycle tens of thousands of hours in Australia to get an injury requiring medical treatment. More than 10 times as many Americans were shot dead in 2014 as died cycling and, despite the headlines, most Americans are never going to be shot at in their lifetimes. The benefits of cycling can’t be translated into such striking figures but there’s no doubt that regular exercise prolongs and improves life in every way, and cycling is one of the best ways to make gentle exercise a daily routine….’

‘…Risk reduction cannot be the only grounds on which policy is decided. If that were the case, helmets would be compulsory for pedestrians as well, since it would reduce the seriousness of some injuries, and undoubtedly save lives too. The ultimate aim of public policy must be to enable and encourage human flourishing, and because we are complicated and contradictory creatures, that must involve a degree of self-contradiction and the balancing of some goods against others.  The sense of freedom and spontaneity that cyclists enjoy is not an illusion and has real value.’

It is a salutory paragraph that members of the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) committee on play equipment and surfacing would do well to read.  The ASTM has yet again embarked on an attempt to revise downwards the Head Impact Criterion for playground impact absorbing surfacing from the current HIC1000 to HIC700.  The considerable negative consequences of such a move have been set out before and can be found here in comments by David Ball, Professor of Risk Management at the Centre for Decision Analysis and Risk Management.

In a previous post  I’ve set out a view as to why the structure, processes and membership of Standard-making committees concerned with play equipment and surfacing need fundamental reform.  That the current ASTM proposal on surfacing has returned yet again seems to underscore the point.   However, in the interim, I would urge readers concerned about the proposal to make representations to ASTM and also alert your national play equipment and surfacing Standard-making committees to your views.

Decisions about play provision, whether in schools, public playgrounds, or  as part of a playable public realm, are a civil society matter.  Play organisations, pedagogues, teachers, designers and so forth need to ensure that it is their value system and understandings that underpin decisions about play provision.  Currently, key decisions about play provision are made by remote committees whose thought processes, orientations and interests render them unsuitable arbiters of what is best for children and teenagers at play.

2 responses to “A renewed, misguided ASTM attempt to change surfacing standards, a Guardian editorial and risk-benefit assessment”

  1. […] long-time collaborator Bernard Spiegal posted a succinct piece last week on the topic. The Guardian editorial on cycle helmets he quotes makes a crucial point: […]


  2. Nicely put – and as you say, the Guardian editorial is a fine example of a thoughtful, balanced approach to a complex problem. Will share!


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About Me

My name is Bernard Spiegal, I write mainly about Palestine/Israel and related issues; sometimes other stuff too


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