School Athletic Equipment Safety Expert Article

School administrators, athletic directors, and coaches have broad responsibilities for the proper management of athletic programs, including the safety of athletes. One of the most important aspects of this responsibility is to inform and educate parents and athletes about the risks associated with participation in various sports so that they can make informed, educated decisions throughout their involvement.

School Athletic Equipment Safety Expert Witness

School Sports: Athletic Equipment Safety

If a student-athlete is injured during practice or play, the school’s duty to ensure participants have proper and appropriate fitting equipment may factor in a legal dispute. 

The principal, or head of school, is responsible for ensuring the athletics program is properly staffed, funded, managed, supervised, and evaluated. 

The athletic director is responsible across all athletic programs for providing athletes with equipment that is in good condition and properly maintained, for certifying that equipment meets all pertinent safety specifications, and for ensuring instruction is provided on the proper use of the equipment.  

Coaches are responsible for checking equipment for defects prior to using the equipment, for warning participants of potential hazards related to equipment use, for teaching participants how to properly fit, use, and inspect their equipment, and to ensure that defective or worn equipment is replaced.

Athletic Equipment Selection

Within the context of a dispute, it will often be necessary to determine if athletic equipment and protective gear was appropriate. An assessment of equipment selection should consider several factors including the level of the program, as well as the age, skill level, and experience of the user(s). An investigation may also seek to determine if the school's athletic administrator consulted with sport-specific professionals during the equipment selection process, and whether equipment was purchased by coaches or parents. 

The person selecting equipment should be competent and knowledgeable about the equipment needed for the sport and should consider safety, durability, brand, maintenance and upkeep requirements, while being cognizant of budgetary considerations. The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) has performance and test standards for athletic equipment used in many, but not all, high school sports. NOCSAE seals ensure that equipment has been properly designed, constructed, and certified. Where relevant, selected equipment should bear a stamp of approval from NOCSAE.

Additionally, equipment needs to meet all National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and NCAA rules regarding sports equipment. NOCSAE has established standards that have been accepted by both the NCAA as well as the NFHS. 

Athletic Equipment Preventative Maintenance

Many sports injury cases involve equipment that has been in service long enough to require routine inspection/maintenance. This is especially relevant for contact sports like football, lacrosse, field hockey, and baseball/softball that require athletes to wear helmets, pads, and other protective gear.

Athletic directors and coaches are responsible for ensuring that all used equipment is inspected at regular intervals to determine what is safe, what should be reconditioned, and what should be disposed of. There should be clear policies and procedures in place regarding preventative maintenance. Schools have a responsibility for selecting and overseeing their maintenance service providers, whether they be district employees or third-party contractors.

To prevent injury and ensure that equipment remains safe between inspections, it is important to communicate details concerning equipment safety and maintenance to athletes and, when applicable, their parents or guardians. This may include education regarding the annual reconditioning of helmets and pads or when and how new equipment is purchased.

Athletes should be advised that all equipment must comply with standards set by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment. Coaches should be trained to properly fit all protective equipment, but particularly helmets for football and lacrosse since they play a vital role in protecting against concussions and traumatic brain injuries.

Helmet Safety

Football, baseball, softball, hockey, and lacrosse are sports that require the use of helmets to participate and having proper fitting and age-appropriate equipment is vital for the protection of those athletes. Purchasing and fitting helmets is one of the more critical jobs of athletic directors and coaches.

Forensic investigations involving sports-related injuries such as concussions may evaluate policies and procedures surrounding helmet selection and fitting. Information such as the qualifications of those performing the fitting, the environment where fittings are completed, the warnings and instructions given to the user(s), and related documentation may all be relevant to the case. 

Athletic Equipment Expert Witness Investigations

Modification or misuse of equipment, failure to follow guidelines related to selection and fitting, inadequate or poor instruction related to the equipment, or failure to warn participants and parents regarding the risk of participating in a particular sport are some of the more common issues relevant to athletic equipment.

If you have a case that involves interscholastic sports, submit an inquiry to discuss how Robson Forensic can assist.

Featured Expert

Joseph A. Blackman, School Supervision, Administration & Sports Expert

Joseph A. Blackman

School Supervision, Administration & Sports Expert
Joseph Blackman is a school administration and sports safety expert with over 25 years of professional experience as a teacher, coach, and principal/vice-principal. His expertise includes day-to-day… read more.

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