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On the ropes: is the boxing community doing enough to prevent head injuries?

April 8, 2016 at 8:42 AM

The topic of concussion in sport has once again been thrust into the limelight following the recent fight between middleweight boxers Chris Eubank Jr and Nick Blackwell. The fight was stopped in the 10th round on the advice of the ringside doctor as it became apparent that Blackwell had sustained significant head trauma, developing a massive swelling over his left eye. Blackwell was taken to hospital following the fight where it was found he had suffered a bleed on his brain. He was put into an induced coma. Thankfully after 10 days Blackwell has been slowly brought out of the coma and appears to be showing signs of recovery.

There is an obvious risk of head injury in a number of different sports. Concussion on the pitch has been a big issue for the Rugby Board to overcome in the last couple of years. Given the ongoing debate about head injury in sport, is enough being done by the regulatory bodies to protect those playing competitively?

Professional sports players understand the risk and dangers of their chosen sport and the real possibility of sustaining serious injury. However, regulatory sporting bodies have a duty of care to ensure safety regulations allow for the minimum amount of danger possible, as well as adequate medical care in the event that an injury does occur. As the issue has become more high profile, progress is being made. Last month, Newcastle forward Aleksandar Mitrovic was knocked unconscious during the Tyne-Wear derby with Sunderland. Mitrovic regained consciousness on the sidelines and was desperate to return to the pitch and continue playing. Despite his angry outburst, Newcastle Doctor Paul Catterson refused to let him. Mitrovic later apologized to the doctor acknowledging that he did know what the rules were.

However despite a growing awareness of the long term risks of unchecked head injuries, the Professional Rugby Injury Surveillance Project Report 2014/5 was published last month and reveals that concussion is still the most common injury in English professional rugby.

Although boxing is currently in the limelight, the sport is actually the most strictly regulated when it comes to head injuries. Before each competition, a compulsory medical examination must be undertaken, covering both physical and mental health. Without these checks, a player is not allowed to fight. For every tournament, trained medical professionals must be on hand to cope with any concussive incidents, and an evacuation procedure must also be established prior. In the event of a period of concussion, there are strict rules as to when individuals can return to competition, for example if a boxer has experienced a loss of consciousness for under a minute they must rest for 90 days. After this incident of rest period, the boxer must obtain a certificate of fitness from a physician or neurologist. Compared with other sports such as rugby, football, F1 racing and horse racing these regulations are actually fairly stringent.

What role should the referee have?

But when is the right time to end the fight? That is the challenge currently facing boxing. Under current regulations either the referee or the boxer's coaches can decide when to put a stop to the match. The referee in the Eubank Jr vs Blackwell match, Victor Loughlin has faced criticism for not stopping the fight earlier. Chris Eubank Sr who was ringside during the bout had told his son between rounds 8 and 9 to aim his blows to his Blackwell's body and to avoid his head in order to protect him from any further damage. Eubank Sr has said that he thought of Michael Watson who suffered irreparable brain damage following a fight with him in 1991 as Blackwell was removed from the ring. Both Eubank Sr and Jr have since expressed the view that the fight should have been stopped sooner; however the British Boxing Board have confirmed they were satisfied with the way the fight was conducted by the referee.

Referees in all sports have the power to stop the game, although it happens more frequently in some than others - football matches are often halted many times in one match due to injury, although this scarcely happens in boxing. Boxing coaches in particular have a difficult decision on their hands when contemplating stopping a match, as finances, future fights and emotions can often interfere. Referees tend to stop a match if there is a medical factor, such as a broken jaw or loss of vision that is clearly affecting the individual's ability to participate and protect themselves.

Chris Eubank Snr speaking to his son in corner of ring

But should England Boxing do more to regulate the safety of boxers, especially in relation to head injuries? Greater education of referees could be the solution. Concussion and internal head injuries can be fatal, yet are much harder to spot than say, a broken jaw (for which referees would immediately stop the match). Given that blows to the head can develop into some of the most life debilitating injuries, it is extremely important that referees are able to spot the signs of head injury and take effective action. Noticing these subtle signs could mean the difference between life and death. Ensuring all referees are educated in how to spot head injuries effectively is key to decreasing the numbers of boxers suffering potentially life changing injuries.

However it remains a difficult issue as acknowledged by Robert Smith, the General Secretary of the British Board of Boxing Control in a recent interview on Radio 5 live "We have everything in place as best we can. But we're never going to make it 100% safe".

Given the potential life-threatening damage concussion in sport presents, does more need to be done to educate all officials present at a match?

As a complex injury solicitor I've dealt with a number of clients who have suffered severe brain injuries and have on occasion witnessed these differences first hand. In some cases, clients are discharged from hospital with little or no support following a life-changing brain injury.

About the author

Mary Kay PhotoMary Kay is an experienced lawyer who has worked at Spencers Solicitors for over fifteen years. After graduating from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne with a degree in English Literature, Mary qualified as a Solicitor in 2007 and has worked within the Complex Injury team for seven years dealing with catastrophic injury claims.

Mary's previous blog was Brain Injury Rehabilitation: The Fight for Consistency of Care

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Are you skiing on thin ice? How ensure you are protecting yourself on the slopes

February 22, 2016 at 9:22 AM

Channel 4 were in hot water this month, following the news that four celebrities have been forced to quit their winter sport reality show The Jump, due to injuries inflicted during training. Olympic gymnast Beth Tweddle has undergone serious surgery on her neck, while others have suffered fractures and muscle injuries, and following this spate of injuries many are calling for a review into safety procedures on the reality show. With ski season upon us it seems a good time to reflect on the safety of winter sports, to ensure you and your family remain safe if planning a trip to the slopes.

The importance of insurance

Although getting insurance in place may not be top of your list when off on holiday it is extremely important, and especially when taking part in extreme winter sports. You need to ensure your holiday insurance covers you for extreme sporting injuries, will cover all treatment in a hospital abroad as well as emergency care. If you are self-employed it is worth checking your insurance covers loss of earnings - as in the event you are seriously injured you could need to take a lot of time off to recover.

Ski slope in Andorra with skiers

Head injuries

The effects of winter sport accidents can be long lasting; Formula 1 driver Michael Schumacher, who suffered Traumatic Brain Injury two years ago as a result of a skiing accident, has still not recovered. It is estimated that head injuries account for around 10 - 20% of all snow sport injuries.

Minor bumps and bashes can seem like a natural part of skiing, but even something that seems like a minor head injury can cause long lasting effects which often do not present themselves at the time of the accident. More serious brain injuries can result in the individual slipping into a coma and even permanent disability. After being in a coma, there are a number of possible outcomes, with some people showing distinct but limited signs of awareness and others showing no conscious awareness of their surroundings. Either way, it is clear that head related trauma is definitely to be avoided at all costs and wearing a helmet can dramatically reduce the chance of this occurring.

Tips for staying safe on the slopes

Helmets: as discussed the dangers of head injuries are extensive and these can be greatly reduced by wearing a helmet on the slopes. Having said this, the wearing of protective headgear should not be seen as providing complete protection and lure the wearer into a false sense of security. It is vital to exercise common sense, be vigilant and follow basic safety guidelines at all times.

Speed: the speed of not only yourself but also others flying down mountains, especially during peak times, can be the root cause of many injuries. Ensure you travel at a safe speed, not only for your own safety but for those around you as well.

Know your resort: get a resort map which will contain vital information such as medical assistance locations. Along with this each ski lift will have its own notice board that will list closed slopes and also the times in which the last lift will run, this is key to plan your route round the mountain and making it back to the resort before dark which can come around very quick.

Going off-piste: choosing to venture away from the closely maintained slopes with guides and instructors and off into woods or unchartered ground is dangerous. Avalanches are more common, and as the surface of the ground is no longer guaranteed to be smooth, accidents may be more likely to occur (with help further away once they do).

Experience: make sure you are comfortable with the level of those around you - starting on a black slope as a novice is not a good idea and can not only put your life in danger but those around you as well. Take lessons before you set out by yourself and make sure you are using good quality equipment that includes knee and wrist guards as these are the most common part of the body to instinctively put forward when falling.

If you do have an accident when skiing make sure you get the accident logged in an official capacity and ensure you or those with you get the details of the person who caused the accident as well as anyone who witnessed what happened. Most ski passes are purchased with insurance which might meet any claim you may wish to make for injury or expenses.

Overall, whilst extreme winter sports are adrenaline-filled fun, accidents are commonplace. Broken bones or torn ligaments could affect you long after returning home, while serious brain injuries can be life-threatening. Many occurrences of traumatic brain injury happen through freak accidents, but there are ways in which you can minimise risk and reduce the likelihood of these occurring.

 

Have you ever had an injury whilst skiing or snowboarding? How do you think we can reduce the number of accidents?

About the author

Emma Melia PhotoEmma Melia is a Solicitor and lead litigator within Spencers Solicitors' catastrophic injury team. Emma has over 17 years' experience helping people who have suffered life changing injuries as a result of sporting accidents.

Emma's last blog was Safer Riding - Keeping you and your horse safe on the roads.

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The H&S Executive Strikes Back

February 15, 2016 at 4:51 PM

A couple of years ago, in a studio not so far, far away.... a little known Disney subsidiary, Foodles Production (UK) Ltd, hit the headlines when a very high-profile accident occurred on their film set.

Emergency services were called in 2014 after Hollywood star Harrison Ford had been injured in an accident involving a 'garage door'. The seriously injured actor was airlifted to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford where he was found to have broken his leg and underwent surgery resulting in weeks off the shoot.

It transpired that the 71-year-old actor had been hit by a hydraulic metal door on the Pinewood lot in Buckinghamshire whilst filming the highly anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The 'garage door' actually belonged to the Millennium Falcon, Han Solo's transport of choice, which had been built to a life size scale for the film.

Millennium Falcon entry ramp

Thankfully Ford made a full recovery, however the incident received wide spread coverage in the press and with Star Wars fans alike.

A certain point of view

Last week the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) announced that it had brought criminal proceedings against the film company in relation to the incident. The London-based Foodles' responding saying "Cast and crew safety is a priority. We are disappointed but will co-operate fully with the investigation."

The HSE insists there was enough evidence from their perspective to bring a total of four charges of alleged breaches of health and safety law. A spokesperson for the HSE stressed that employers were legally obliged to take 'reasonable steps' to safeguard employees, whether their place of work was the set of a $2bn grossing Hollywood movie or a factory floor.

Now company representatives from Foodles Production must appear before magistrates in May (but unfortunately for Star Wars fans not on the 4th).

On the face of it I was initially surprised that this accident warranted such serious action by the HSE. It's difficult to imagine that corners would be cut with a $200 million budget, and while a broken leg is serious, it looks slightly out of place in comparison to the other HSE prosecutions in February that include asbestos in schools, a major offshore gas leak and worker fatalities.

Is the HSE just getting some easy headlines off the back of one of year's biggest films, or is this a symptom of much wider safety issues in the industry?

"I'll be careful....You'll be dead"

An accident involving such a high profile movie star was always going to make headlines. However similar film set accidents could be going unreported and movie/TV productions may be far more dangerous than you could possibly imagine.

Julia Llewellyn Smith wrote an excellent article in the Telegraph titled Hollywood's Health and Safety Nightmares that summed up the extent of the danger to cast and crew:

"Statistics are hard to collate because most health and safety executives don’t file incidents under 'film industry', but it appears that between 20 and 40 people worldwide are killed or seriously injured during a film production each year."
Han Solo street art with I Know

Proportionately that's more than in US law enforcement, road construction and mining. Then if you factor in the majority of film employees would be employed in office jobs rather than building 35 meter spaceships on a daily basis, the true hazardous nature of the industry is obvious.

Lower budget films in particular are thought to have many near misses and under-reported accidents. Smaller independent films have less resource and fewer crew members, while many of these crew members may be expected to fulfil several different roles. The HSE's specific guidelines for TV or movie sets outlines no less than 16 major hazard categories and 11 risk assessment areas, so keeping on top of all these risks would be a full time task for even the largest production.

A New Hope

Employers responsible for accidents can be fined up to £20,000 per health and safety breach and can even face jail for up to two years in the most severe of negligence cases, so the seriousness of the charges shouldn't be underestimated.

An unsafe working environment is a danger to all and if the star (and no less Captain of the Millennium Falcon) could have been be seriously injured due to negligence, then we should be concerned for the welfare of the other hundreds of cast and crew.

I await the outcome of the case with interest, and hope whatever the verdict it will have a positive impact on safety in the film industry, if only in raising awareness.

 

Should we see more of these high-profile prosecutions from the HSE? Do you think this action would have been taken if the injury was to an unknown member of the production crew, or on a smaller indie film?

Comment. Or comment not. There is no try.

 

About the author

Martyn Gilbert photoMartyn Gilbert is the Chief Information Officer at Spencers Solicitors and has worked in the legal industry for over 18 years, developing processes and systems to assist lawyers in helping injured people.

Martyn's last blog was Trick or treat? Keeping your children safe on Halloween

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