Equipment- Stainless Steel Screws Make Football Helmets Safer

Equipment- Stainless Steel Screws Make Football Helmets Safer

Meghan Juuti

When head and neck injuries occur in football, the player's face mask may need to be removed quickly in order to maintain an open airway and immobilize the spine.

However, according to a study by the National Athletic Trainers' Association, problems with the screws that anchor the facemask often makes speedy removal difficult. The most common problem is screws that spin in place instead of moving outward on their threads.

The NATA study identified types of screws and helmet features that will improve the likelihood of efficient facemask removal.

The NATA Study
The study involved 53 high school football teams and 2584 helmets. Three types of helmet screws colors were investigated: silver, black, and gold. The silver screws were with stainless steel or nickel-plated carbon steel; the black was An analysis was performed on time between conditioning and climate.


• The overall success rate for helmet removal was 84%, but three teams had failure rates of more than 50%!

• The teams with the longest time between reconditioning had the worst record - 47%.

• It was found that type of screw was the strongest predictor of successful facemask removal.

• Length of time between helmet reconditioning also increased the chance that screws would fail, with a three-year reconditioning interval producing the most failures.

• Helmets from the Midwest had the lowest failure rate, while those from the Southern region had the highest rate of failure--probably due to the higher incidence of hot, humid weather and the faster rates of corrosion that can produce.

• Eighty-four percent of the facemasks were successfully removed using a cordless screwdriver. Previous studies have found that a cordless screwdriver produces the fastest removal with the least head movement.

• It was also found that the screws on the side of the helmet were most prone to failure.

Effective Helmet Feature: T-Nut Wall
When facemasks cannot be removed, it's usually because the screws' T-nuts are rotated and spin with the rotation of the screw. T-nuts are the receptacle for the screws located inside the helmet.

A proven safety feature is the presence of a "T-nut wall" inside the helmet. A T-nut wall is a depression molded to the inside of the shell of the helmet that holds the base of the T-nut in place so it can't spin. Riddell's VSR-4 and Shutt's DNA models are two examples of helmets with this feature.

Here's a heads-up. Don't put a washer beneath the T-nut. This is sometimes done in order to make the screw fasten more tightly. The washer prevents the T-Nut from contacting the depression in the helmet.


• The most important factor in successful helmet removal was found to be screw type. Be sure to use stainless steel as the first option, with nickel-plated carbon steel as the second. Such screws are usually silver in colour. Black or gold screws are usually carbon steel without the nickel-plated coating and are more prone to corrosion and failure.

• It has been shown that using a cordless screwdriver to remove facemask screws is faster and produces less head movement than using a cutting tool. So recommendations include using a cordless screwdriver as first option, with a manual screwdriver ready as a backup. Of course, bits that match the helmet screws must be available as well. A cutting device should also be available in case the screws cannot be removed using the screwdrivers.

• Regularly check and change worn-out screws to ensure that helmets can be removed quickly and easily when needed.

• Annual reconditioning is necessary and should include complete screw replacement. Screws should be checked throughout the season, as should other areas of the helmet.

• When purchasing new helmets, buy models with a T-nut wall built into the shell of the helmet. This feature reduces the chance that facemask screws will spin.

Reference: Erik.Swartz, Laura Decoster, Susan Norkus, Thomas Cappaert, "The Influence of Various Factors on High School Football Helmet Face Mask Removal: A Retrospective, Cross-Sectional Analysis." Journal of Athletic Training, 2007;42(1):11--19.


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