A Westmeath man has received the support of MEP Mairead McGuinness in his quest to improve safety standards for horse riding helmets.
Peter Downes, from Mullingar, lost his16-year-old son Stephen in September 1995, when he suffered fatal head injuries even though he was wearing a helmet recommended by the Irish Turf Club.
Last week Mr Downes took his case to a Petitions Committee hearing in the European Parliament in Brussels, where he called on the EU Commission to heed his concerns about the lack of adequate protection provided by current riding safety helmets.
Speaking following the hearing of the Petitions Committee, which hears complaints taken by EU citizens, community groups, and others on any issue under EU law, Ms McGuinness said she fully supports “the tireless efforts of Peter Downes to get a higher standard helmet onto the market to protect riders”.
She said it was regrettable that despite the development of a new European standard in October 2005 - EN14572 (High Performance helmets for equestrian activities ) - that no newly designed helmets have been placed on the market.
“The decision to draw up a new standard arose from the efforts of Peter Downes from Westmeath, whose young son was tragically killed in a horse riding accident in 1995. Peter Downes’ personal loss prompted him to look at the issue of helmet safety and his efforts led to action which has not been followed through by helmet manufacturers,” said Ms McGuinness.
“No effective action has been taken since the drafting of new safety standards in 2005, despite a belief that significant improvements are urgently needed to provide improved safety for riders. It has emerged that the safety standards drawn up in 2005 have not been implemented because of concerns that it could result in a riding helmet too heavy and uncomfortable to wear.
“Effectively the work done to produce the new standard was incomplete, with no thought given to the practical implications of the new standard. The Commission has said it doubts if the new standard drawn up in 2005 actually conformed with several basic health and safety requirements of the Personal Protection Equipment (PPE ) Directive.
“It is regrettable that this is the case, the Commission has allowed too much time to lapse with no action taken to improve rider safety.
“The Commission will now seek to withdraw the 2005 standards and request the Committee for Standardization (CEN ) to re-examine the possibility of improving the level of protection provided by equestrian helmets using current technology, with a view to revising the current standard, EN 1384.”
Ms McGuinness urged the Commission, as a matter of urgency, to press for higher safety standards in equestrian helmets.
“It is simply not good enough to say that there does not seem to be a market demand for ‘high performance’ helmets.
“Riders believe that their helmets are fit for purpose. We know that this is not the case and a safer helmet can and should be designed. The Commission must see that higher safety standards are implemented without delay,” she concluded.