Helmet certifications and what they mean

Helmet Certification Standards

Riding helmets provide an indisputable reduction in the potential of traumatic injury.  While no helmet can prevent serious injury under select or all circumstances, the use of well-fitted protective headgear can greatly reduce the likelihood of serious head injury.  The use of certified SEI ASTM protective headgear is compulsory within many United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) sanctioned divisions including but not limited to Dressage, Eventing, Hunters, Jumpers and Driving.  In addition, the Federation Equestre International (FEI) also requires certified protective headgear to be worn.

But hard hats have been worn for decades across all horse sport disciplines, what is different about the now compulsory rules?  Well…the cornerstone of the protective headgear conversation comes down to the helmet’s certification.  More so, in order for a riding helmet to be deemed “protective” it must meet or exceed stringent certification standards, issued by national governing or 3rd party bodies such as SEI ASTM, CE, BSI and Snell.  If the alphabet soup of helmet certification standards is not confusing enough independent third-party certification such as MIPS are also thrown into the mix.  While it is easy to presume that all helmets of today must be certified, such is not the case.  Our noggins need protection and USEF and the FEI think so too.  Most helmet companies have gone through significant research and design to ensure their helmets meet or exceed certification standards.  But what exactly are those standards and what do they mean? 

Often countries or regions such as the United States or European Union have standards by which safety protocol is defined.  Within the US, the SEI or Safety Equipment Institute, affiliate of ASTM International, is looked to as an independent third-party certification provider. USEF certified headgear must meet or exceed ASTM SEI standards.  The EU has a similar standard notated by a CE marking.  Helmets with the CE marking indicate they have been tested and meet or exceed EU safety protection requirements.  Regardless of where the helmet is manufactured, if it is to be marketed in the EU it must bear the CE certification.  Some additional nationally and internationally recognized safety standards for equestrian headgear are the Snell E2016, GS, Kitmarked PAS 015 and Kitmarked VG1.  The Geprüfte Sicherheit or GS indicates that the helmet meets or exceeds German safety standards.  The Snell certification is internationally recognized and certifies that the helmet meets or exceeds what is commonly accepted as the most ridged safety standard.  Let’s not forget the British, the BSI or British Standards Institute will designate helmets, which meet or exceed their standards as VG1 or PAS015, a more stringent standard.  In addition to safety standards recognized by member organizations, regional and national governments, there are also popular industry-leading safety technologies such as MIPS or Multi Directional Impact System that can add additional protections to headgear.

We have introduced a variety of helmet safety standard certifications of varies organizations and regions but what is the difference between these standards and what criteria does each of these standards certify?  More so, how exactly are our heads protected when we wear a helmet with any of these certifications?  Standards measure numerous impact types including Flat Impact, Hazard Edge Impact, Round Impact, Spike projectiles and Crush Resistance at a variety of levels.  For example, SEI certified helmets to ASTM standards require helmets to meet or exceed a 1.8m Flat Impact and 1.3m Hazard Edge Impact test. The Kitmarked VG1 standard requires helmets to meet or exceed a 1.8m Flat Impact, 50cm Spike projectile and 630N Crush Resistance test.  Kitmarked’s additional standard, PAS015, requires helmets to meet or exceed a 1.8m Flat Impact, 1.3m Hazard Edge Impact, 75cm Spike projectile and 800N Crush Resistance test.  The Snell certified helmets must meet or exceed the most extensive standards to the highest levels including 1.9m Flat Impact, 1.3m Hazard Edge Impact, 1.5m Round Impact, 100cm Spike projectile and 1000N Crush Resistance tests.  MIPS is a bit different as it is not a certification standard but a notation of specific technology most easily understood as slip plane technology which mirrors and increases the natural protection provided by the dynamic relationship between the brain and skull.  Below are two diagrams that help outline the variety of safety certifications and MIPS technology.



While we can talk about the multitude of standards and helmet technologies available to consumers, often made compulsory by organizations; it is critical we remember fundamentals of helmet safety.  No helmet can protect its user from trauma all of the time in all scenarios however, the use of a certified well-fitting helmet will greatly reduce the chance of traumatic injury when compared to no helmet use in the same incident.  Throughout this discussion a few terms are repeated when referencing certification and helmet fit, those are “meet or exceed” standards and a “well fitted” helmet.  It is important to note that helmets are tested in a controlled environment with a variety of drop and impact tests.  Certification standards do not test helmets in real-life horse-riding situations.  Maintaining uniformity in real life is a significant undertaking and the drop/impact standards used in the laboratory best simulate the real-life situations in a test environment.  For a helmet to receive a specific certification, it will meet and often exceed standards.  More so, certified helmets will absolutely meet certified requirements but may also exceed them.  A well-fitted helmet with the chinstrap securely fastened is critical when assessing a helmets ability to protect its user.  While some innovative helmet technologies such as MIPS are great additions to helmets which third party tests have shown to reduce the likelihood of head trauma, MIPS is not currently evaluated or certified by any of the major international safety standard certifications.

Choosing the correct certified riding helmet is a personal choice with numerous options that can be confusing at times.  However, it is important when making an educated decision to understand the criteria of helmet certifications.  Certified helmets will note their relevant safety certification standards on their helmets as well as make it available in literature, marketing and at time of purchase.  The above information does not make any expressly or implied claims that any safety headgear will protect its user in all situations.