An offer of support to
Britain’s largest cycling workforce from the national cyclists’ organisation
"We posties need a voice with clout. Let me, as a ground roots postie,
tell how this was introduced. I know
of no postie who was asked by the union or Royal Mail if they wantedhelmets.
We were not consulted … we were told it was compulsory to wear them or we
would be disciplined under Royal Mail's Code of Conduct i.e. wear them or risk
losing your job. We were also told that managers would be checking on their
patrols to see if we were wearing them. We were never given our legal right to
Dear postal worker
Many of you have contacted us lately about Royal Mail’s new
rules requiring all staff to wear helmets when cycling for work. At a time of
growing pressure from several sources to make all cyclists wear helmets, CTC,
the national cyclists’ organisation, wishes to offer whatever support we can
to the UK’s largest cycling workforce, who are already facing this threat
head-on. One worker has already been sacked for not wearing a helmet, despite
medical evidence that this would cause problems.
The reasons why Royal Mail (RM) and the Communications
Workers Union (CWU) backed the new rules may have been well-intentioned, but we
also believe they were deeply misguided. We would stress that CTC is not
"anti-helmet" – we support people’s right to choose either way,
based on reliable, balanced evidence about the possible benefits of helmets and
their limitations. However, we also believe that enforced helmet-wearing is not
justified, either in practice or in law. Our reasons are set out below.
We wish to question the advice in an as-yet unpublished
report commissioned by Royal Mail, which led to them adopt this helmet rule. We want to
know whether it considered the following issues:
Why is there no evidence of any link between increased helmet-wearing with
improved cycle safety?
Whether enforced helmet-wearing is any better justified for cyclists than
for pedestrians or drivers?
What liabilities might the employer incur by enforcing helmet-wearing on
its cycling workforce?
Whether employers are legally entitled to require staff to wear helmets
for cycling on public roads?
Meanwhile, we want to hear from you, so you can tell
us your experiences of how the new rule is working in practice, and we can keep
you informed as we pursue the legal and evidence questions above. We have
therefore set up a support and information line for cycling postal workers. We
want to know:
Were you balloted or consulted before the decision to bring in the helmet
Were you told about the limitations to the effectiveness of cycle helmets?
What stance have local managers and union officials taken on the issue?
How strictly is your local management seeking to enforce the rule in your
What proportion of postal workers are riding with helmets?
Have you or anyone you know faced actual or threatened disciplinary action
for not wearing a helmet?
So please, do get in touch with us! You can either post back
the form or send us your contact details via the phone number or email address
given below. We will call back at your convenience to talk through various
questions such as those listed above.
Please feel free to copy and distribute this letter to
colleagues. Or if you would like us to send you more copies, please let us know
how many you require. We look forward to hearing from you.
If you would like copies of this letter to give to
colleagues, please state number ____
It takes 21,000 years of average cycling to suffer a fatality, and 3,000
years to suffer a clinically serious head injury, let alone one that might be
preventable by wearing a helmet.
There are no known cases where increased helmet-wearing has ever led to a
reduction in either the risk or severity of cyclists’ injuries. Indeed,
surprising as it may seem, there are some cases where the opposite appears to
In the USA, where helmets have been strongly promoted (with compulsion
either for children or for all cyclists in certain counties and states), the
proportion of cyclists wearing helmets increased from 18% to 50% between
1991 and 2001. However, this coincided not only with a 21% reduction in
cycle use but also a 10% increase in the absolute number of head injuries
for cyclists, amounting to a 40% increase in head injury rates for those who
continue to cycle.
In Western Australia, cycle use fell by 30-60% after cycle helmets were
made compulsory in 1991, whereas cyclists’ head injuries reduced by only
11-21%. By 2000, cycle use was still 10-20% below its pre-law levels, yet
the cyclist proportion of all people hospitalised by serious road crash
injuries rose in this period from 17% to 26% – indicating that the risk of
serious injury for cyclists had increased by around one-third.
Similar findings have been observed not only in countries where helmet
laws have been passed (New Zealand, Canada) but also where it has risen
voluntarily. For instance, helmet-wearing in London has risen from near-zero
in the mid 1980s to around 50% today – well above the national average.
There has been no detectable improvement in cycle safety relative to
previous trends – these have tracked the trend for pedestrian injuries
both before and after helmet-wearing started to become commonplace. The one
difference since then is that, unlike pedestrians, the proportion of
cyclists’ injuries which are fatal or serious has actually increased.
The lack of evidence linking increased helmet use and improved cycle
safety does not necessary mean this link does not exist. However it does
suggest that the protective value of helmets can only be limited at best.
This is hardly surprising – helmets are only designed to withstand an
impact speed of 12mph, equivalent to falling to the ground from a stationary
If the benefits of helmets IN THE EVENT of a head impact are (at best)
limited, these could easily be eroded if helmeted riders are also more
likely to suffer a head impact IN THE FIRST PLACE. There are several
possible explanations why this may be the case, backed up by a good deal of
evidence. One is the possibility that, as people feel better protected, they
take greater risks. This could be dangerous if their faith in helmets is
misguided. Other possibilities relate to the increase in the effective size
or weight or the head. For instance, a helmet could turn what would
otherwise have been a near-miss into a rotational force impact, of the kind
which is the most common cause of serious brain injury.
This makes it all the more important not to overstate the case for
helmet-wearing and to adopt a balanced, evidence-based approach to the
If it were justified to make cyclists wear helmets, the case for requiring
pedestrians and vehicle occupants to wear them would be much stronger, as
this would save at least 12.5 times as many lives.
The Health and Safety Executive has stated, "Cycle helmets used on
the public highway are specifically excluded from the Personal Protective
Equipment (PPE) at work regulations. This means that it would be very hard
for an employer to force an employee to wear a cycle helmet on health and
The statement continued, "HSE has no remit to dictate the uniform
policy of a company unless it falls within the scope of PPE. Ultimately the
wearing of cycle helmets is a matter on individual choice, and any stance to the
contrary could potentially be challenged on human rights grounds. With regards
to the use of cycle helmets on the public roads by members of the public, this
is a policy area that falls totally within the remit of the Department for
Contact CTC for a briefing sheet setting out our stance on
helmet compulsion and helmet promotion campaigns; or download this from