An Analysis of Hammer Throw Facility Safety Factors in NCAA Division I

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to determine the level of compliance with National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) track and field hammer facility recommendations at division I universities in the United States. A 35-item survey instrument was distributed to 279 applicable schools with a 28% response rate. A total of 78.1% participants in the study reported compliance with the NCAA minimum recommendations, and 38% also met the IAAF standards. An ANOVA of the coaches’ overall perception of hammer facility safety demonstrated significant differences for facility factors including the gate height, gate positioning, cage manufacturer, landing area security, and response time to maintenance issues. The NCAA may need to examine their present hammer facility guidelines and consider alignment with the new standards of the IAAF.

Key Words: Olympic, International, Track and Field, Equipment, Cage

Introduction

The hammer throw, one of the Olympic and internationally recognized field events in track and field, was developed into a competitive event centuries ago in Ireland, Scotland, and England (3). The hammer throw has changed considerably since its origin. This includes equipment changes (such as more precisely-manufactured hammers and smooth-soled shoes that permitted faster spinning), training methods, and throwing distances (now in excess of 280 feet for the best men and 250 feet for the best women in the world). One aspect of the throwing event that has not changed, however, is the inherent danger associated with this event. Athletes, coaches, and spectators participating in the event are at risk; steel hammers that weigh 4 kilos for women and 16 pounds for men are hurled through the air at great speeds, far distances, and sometimes difficult to spot in flight (2).

Due primarily to safety concerns, the throwing circle is protected by a C-shaped cage for the safety of officials, athletes, coaches, and spectators. At the inception of the hammer, there was no safety cage used. The hammer cage was originally designed to prevent the hammer from exiting the thrower’s hands in unprotected directions, such as out of the back, sides, and in dangerous angles from the circle. Prior to 2004, the last significant change to hammer cage design that increased the gate height was in 1994-1995 (6). Even with the safety precautions of the cage and the reduced throwing sector, the hammer throw has met considerable resistance from state high school associations and collegiate athletic administrators in the United States (2).

In August 2003, the international governing body of track and field, the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF), approved rule changes affecting hammer throwing safety cages. After the 2001 IAAF Congress’ decision to reduce the landing sector angle to 34.92 degrees and after several deaths in throwing accidents, there was greater urgency to examine and improve hammer cages (6). The problem with earlier hammer cage specifications and design is that implements could still land on the track front and back straight away even when the cage gates were operated correctly. In the new design, modifications were made to augment safety by increasing the length and height of the gates as well as decreasing the opening between the front posts. Studies of the trajectory of the hammer necessitated that the minimum height of the additional two side panels and the gates be increased to 10m (4). The new IAAF rule standards came into force January 1, 2004 (8).

The new IAAF hammer cage design has worked well in terms of reducing the risk of hammers landing on the track as displayed in Figure 1 (6). However, the new IAAF specifications have not been adopted by the NCAA rules committee. Figures 2 and 3 demonstrate the variance in non-IAAF compliant cages of American hammer facilities. Are the colleges and university’s across the United States putting themselves at risk for a catastrophic accident and ensuing litigation by not adopting the IAAF hammer cage? The following study examined current NCAA hammer facilities in relation to safety considerations.

Figure 1
IAAF Compliant Hammer Cage with 10m Gates at a European Venue

IAAF Compliant Hammer Cage

Figure 2
NCAA Compliant Hammer Cage with 8m Gates at an American NCAA Venue

NCAA Compliant Hammer Cage

Figure 3
Non-compliant Hammer Cage with 3.5m Gates at an American NCAA Venue

Non-Compliant Hammer Cage

Research Questions

The following research questions guided this study of hammer throwing facilities at NCAA Division I institutions in the United States:

  1. What are the basic characteristics of NCAA Division I hammer facilities?
  2. To what degree do NCAA college hammer facilities meet NCAA and IAAF standards?
  3. How do the basic hammer facility characteristics relate to facility safety?

Methods

A 35-item survey instrument was developed to collect data regarding the hammer facilities at NCAA Division I colleges and Universities throughout the United States. This survey was developed by the researchers and reviewed by experts in the area of facility design and management and was approved for use via the Institutional Review Board. This survey was formatted for online completion using the InQsit system. An email explaining the study was sent to all head track and field coaches in the United States with a hyperlink to the online survey. The head coaches were instructed to complete the survey themselves or to forward it to their throws coach if the school had one. SPSS version 15.0 was used for all descriptive and ANOVA statistical analyses with an alpha level of .05 established for significance for all tests.

Results

Of the 269 NCAA Division I Universities that competed in track and field, a total of 75 valid responses were obtained representing 28%. Those coaches completing the survey were experienced with the hammer throw with a mean value of coaching experience of 10.24 years (+/- 7.46 SD) with a range of first year coaching up to 39 years of experience. Additionally, 56.2% of these coaches had prior experience competing in the hammer, and all were coaching in track and field programs that fully included the hammer event. The basic characteristics of the hammer facilities at these universities are included in Table 1.

Table 1

Facility/Cage Characteristic % agreement
Dedicated Hammer-Only Facility 50.0%
Hammer Facility Located Inside the Track Oval 26.4%
Hammer Facility Located on the Campus Grounds 85.1%
Hammer Cage Including Gates 87.5%

In addition to the basic facility characteristics, both the knowledge of and compliance with NCAA and IAAF standards were assessed. A total of 78.1% of facilities were reported to be in compliance with NCAA standards for the hammer with 17.8% not in compliance and 4.1% unsure of their level of facility compliance. The NCAA has established hammer throw facility specifications, but only 51.4% of the coaches surveyed were aware that the NCAA does not require compliance with their specifications. However, 82.4% of the coaches expressed that the NCAA should require all member institutions to comply with the established specification found in Rule 1, Section 9 of the NCAA Track and Field rulebook (8). For the IAAF standards, 38.0% of the facilities were compliant with the standards put into effect in 2004. There were 69.9% of coaches aware of the IAAF standards with 30.1% not aware of the international governing body facility standards. As a whole, 53.4% of the coaches surveyed favored an NCAA adoption of the IAAF facility standards for the hammer.

In regards to safety for the hammer facility, a number of questions provided insight to the cost, construction, age, maintenance, and accident history for the hammer facilities. Reported hammer cage costs in US dollars included: 9.9% under $10,000; 35.2% in the $10,000-20,000 range; 16.9% in the $20,000-30,000 range; 9.9% in the above $30,000 range; with 28.2% unaware of cage costs. The reported age of the hammer cages were highest at the newer end with 27.5% 1-3 years old, 18.8% 4-5 years old, 20.3% 6-8 years old, 5.8% 9-10 years old, 24.6% 11-15 years old, with 2.9% unsure of the cage age. Information on the manufacture and installation of the hammer cages is summarized in Table 2. The maintenance staff was reported to regularly respond to requests for repairs to the net or cage for 74.6% of the facilities, with the speed of maintenance staff response to repair requests ranging from, 14.3% immediate, 8.6% within a day, 18.6% in 2-3 days, 30.0% in 4-7 days, and 28.6% in more than a week.

The accident history for the hammer was reported in two areas: practice accidents and competition accidents. For practice situations, 9.9% of coaches reported accidents with the thrower themselves involved in 28.6% of the accidents, other throwers in the area involved in 42.9% of the accidents, the coach involved in 14.3% of the accidents, and unaware bystanders involved in 14.3% of the practice accidents. Competition accidents were reported in 5.5% of the facilities with half of the incidents involving the thrower themselves and half involving coaches.

Table 2

University Personnel Local Company Commercial Manufacturer /
Professional Track Contractor
Cage Manufacturer 12.7% 11.3% 76.1%
Cage Installation 44.3% 17.1% 38.6%

A final analysis of the coaches’ overall perception of hammer facility safety was conducted using a 5-point Likert scaled question ranging from very unsafe to very safe with 1 being very unsafe. The mean value for the whole study was 3.82 (+/- 1.18 SD), with additional analysis conducted for multiple factors to determine if they have a significant impact on overall perception of facility safety as determined by one-way ANOVA. There were 10 factors that significantly impacted overall cage safety including: whether the cage had gates, F (1,70) = 16.35, p < 0.001; gate positioning during practice F (1,68) = 17.11, p < .001; cage maintenance F (1,69) =17.75, p < 0.001; landing area security in practice, F (1,70) = 4.47, p = 0.038; landing area security in competition, F (1,68) = 13.17, p = 0.001; gate height, F (4,65) = 14.69, p < 0.001; cage maker, F (2, 68) = 3.79, p = 0.028; maintenance repair speed, F (4,65) = 3.48, p = 0.012. A summary of these mean safety ratings according to the seven 2-item factors are summarized in Table 3. Three items, (gate height, cage maker, and speed of maintenance response) required further evaluation via Tukey post hoc analyses. For the five gate heights, the safety ratings increased as the gate height increased with the lowest height being significantly less safe than all other heights as summarized in Table 4. Post hoc testing of the cage maker factor revealed that commercially manufactured cages had significantly greater impacts on overall safety than cages fabricated on-site by university personnel (Table 5). The speed of maintenance response factor post hoc testing demonstrated that hammer facilities that had maintenance repair requests acted upon within one day had mean safety ratings significantly higher than facilities where maintenance requests took more than a week for action to be taken. Table 6 displays the general trends for maintenance response speed in relation to overall facility safety.

Table 3
Hammer Facility Mean Safety Ratings for 2-Item Factors

Category Yes Response
Mean Value
(+/- SD)
No Response
Mean Value
(+/- SD)
Hammer Only Throwing Facility 4.05 (+/- 0.94) 3.58 (+/- 1.36)
Cage Inside the Track Oval 4.00(+/- 1.11) 3.81 (+/- 1.16)
Cage On-Campus 3.83 (+/- 1.17) 3.80 (+/- 1.32)
Cage Gates Present * 4.05 (+/- 0.91) 2.56 (+/- 1.74)
Gates Properly Positioned in Practice * 4.17 (+/- 0.88) 3.06 (+/- 1.26)
Cage Maintained Properly * 4.19 (+/- 0.94) 3.06 (+/- 1.11)
Landing Area Security in Practice * 4.23 (+/- 0.95) 3.65 (+/- 1.20)
Landing Area Security in Competition * 4.17 (+/- 0.90) 3.17 (+/- 1.29)
Practice Accident in the Past 3.43 (+/- 0.79) 3.95 (+/- 1.12)
Competition Accident in the Past 3.25 (+/- 1.26) 3.90 (+/- 1.13)
Cage Meets NCAA Specs * 4.18 (+/- 0.87) 2.31 (+/- 1.32)
Cage Meets IAAF Specs * 4.41 (+/- 0.80) 3.50 (+/- 1.19)

Table 4
Mean Safety Ratings According to Hammer Cage Gate Height – subsets represent significantly distinct groups of means

Gate Height N subset 1
for alpha=.05
mean values
subset 2
for alpha=.05
mean values
subset 3
for alpha=.05
mean values
Less than 10′-0″ 3 1.00
10′-1″ to 15-0″ 4 2.75
10′-1″ to 15-0″ 12 3.58 3.58
20′-1″ to 25′-0″ 32 4.06
20′-1″ to 25′-0″ 19 4.52

Table 5
Mean Safety Ratings According to Cage Maker – subsets represent significantly distinct groups of means

Cage Maker N subset 1
for alpha=.05
mean values
subset 2
for alpha=.05
mean values
University Personnel 9 3.00
Local Company
(i.e. local fencing contractor)
54 4.02 4.02
Commercially Manufactured
(i.e. Gill, AAE, etc)
8 4.12

Table 6
Mean Safety Ratings According to Speed of Maintenance Response – subsets represent significantly distinct groups of means

Maintenance Response Time N subset 1
for alpha=.05
mean values
subset 2
for alpha=.05
mean values
More than 7 days 20 3.50
4-7 days 21 3.81 3.81
2-3 days 13 3.92 3.92
1 day 4.83
Immediate 6 4.60 4.60

Discussion

The seemingly slow progress in meeting safety challenges for the hammer throw internationally has now been overcome by the new IAAF rules. However, in the United States there continues to remain some reluctance by NCAA Division I colleges and universities to adopt the new IAAF standards for safety. A total of 78.1% participants in the study reported that they were in compliance with the NCAA minimum recommendations, but only half of the facilities meeting NCAA standards also met the IAAF standards (38.0 % of the total sample). Alarmingly, the remaining 21.4% of the participants reported their facility did not even meet NCAA recommended standards or that they were unsure if the facility met NCAA standards. The coaches were very supportive of mandatory facility requirements of member institution hammer facilities with 82.4% of respondents desiring mandated minimal requirements. The NCAA recommendations still remain far below the IAAF standards for safety (5,8). In the NCAA rule book it states that the purpose of the hammer cage is to contain, but not interfere with, the flight path of the implement (8). The recommended minimum height for the NCAA hammer cage is 6.15 meters, and the rule book states that the height should be increased to 8 m whenever possible. The gates are stated to be panels of suitable material between 2.74 and 2.90 m in width with a fixed cage opening of between 8 and 9 m. It is also stated in the rule book that, “Cage configurations that are more restrictive than the minimums set forth in this rule may only be used with the consent of each participating institution” (8). These standards are far below the IAAF standards of a smaller 7 meter opening and gates that are 10 meters in height and 3.2 meters in length (6).

American universities have found themselves involved in litigation because of accidents involving the hammer throw (2). Rucker v. Regents of the University of California is an example of a case in which the University of California was forced to pay a settlement for 2.25 million dollars because of an accident involving the hammer throw (7). An errant throw by a hammer thrower resulted in a triple jumper on the team being struck in the head and sustaining permanent brain damage during a practice for the team. The University has since changed its policy so that other track members are not practicing anywhere in the vicinity of hammer throwers while they are on the field (7). However, a cage meeting the IAAF standards might prevent this type of injury.

Professionals often consider the practices of their peers to determine the appropriate safe and proper standard of care (1). It was interesting to note that 53.4% of the coaches surveyed supported the adoption of the IAAF facility standards for the hammer. This standard of care is almost universally based upon a commonly accepted standard rather than local or state practice. The IAAF has established guidelines for the construction of hammer cages that reduce the risk of accidents by decreasing the danger zone. Almost one third (30.1%) of the participants in the study were not aware of the IAAF facility standards. The standard of care, as well as the “legal” standard used to judge provider practices in the event of an accident, claim and suit, is often based upon the standard of care owed to clients by various professionals. In the event of litigation, particular practices are generally examined by expert witnesses, who, based upon the professional standard of care, may support or criticize the services in question (1). According to Laurel, Wilson, and Young (2004), the mathematical calculation method of the release velocity gives an 83° danger zone for the pre-2004 cage design. The pre-2004 IAAF cage design is the same as the current NCAA Division I recommendations. The danger zone for the new IAAF cage is approximately 53°, thus reducing the danger zone by 30°. The new design considerably reduces the danger of a hammer thrown by a right handed thrower from a cage located near the 1500 meter start from landing on the main straightaway (6). The NCAA Division I colleges and universities may be putting themselves at risk by not exercising a standard of care for facility construction that is consistent with IAAF guidelines.

There have been several fatal accidents and close calls over the years in the United States involving the hammer throw (2). In the 1980s, during the Bakersfield – Cal State Los Angeles dual meet, a sportswriter was killed by hammer at Cal State Los Angeles. In 2005, a thrower at the University of Southern California, was seriously injured when the hammer bounced off the cage and struck him in the face (N. Bryant, personal communication, May 21, 2009). Participants in the present study reported accidents in practice (9.9%) and in competitions (5.5%). These reported accidents may have included incidents requiring medical attention but were not fatal. A facility that meets the current IAAF standards may have prevented the fatalities of the past and the accidents reported in the present study.

Proper maintenance of the hammer cage and facility equipment means longevity and safety. The maintenance staff in the present study was reported to regularly respond to repairs to the net or cage for 74.6% of the facilities. The type of maintenance necessary for facility upkeep demands an understanding of the types of materials and the equipment being dealt with. Cage maintenance is often a chore balanced between maintenance, grounds and the coaching staff. The protective netting or in many cases chain link fence surrounding the hammer ring must be kept in good repair. The speed of response to repair requests on the hammer facility ranged from: 14.3% immediate, 8.6% within a day, 18.6% in 2-3 days, 30% in 4-7 days, and 28.6% in more than a week. If the hammer facility continues to be utilized when maintenance is required, it increases the possibility of an accident. Over half of the participants in the study (58.6%) reported that it took at least 4 days for a repair request to be completed. Coaches indicated that their facility was the safest when maintenance requests were handled in a day or less. Devising a maintenance schedule for the facility can ensure appropriate, essential, and regular upkeep. Utilizing a hammer facility for practice or competition that is not properly maintained is an unnecessary risk.

The analysis of the coaches’ overall perception of hammer facility safety demonstrated factors like the height of the gates, the manufacturer of the cage, and response time to maintenance issues significantly impacted safety ratings. The trend for safety ratings, as noted in Table 4, increases as gate height increases, which is consistent with the IAAF recommendations of increasing gate height to 10 meters. The factor of cage manufacturer revealed that commercially manufactured cages had significantly greater impacts on the overall perception of safety than cages fabricated on-site by university personnel. Most commercial manufacturers will abide by industry standards for safety. The speed of maintenance response established that hammer facilities that had maintenance repair requests acted upon within one day had mean safety ratings significantly higher than facilities where maintenance requests took more than a week for action to be taken. This demonstrates that in addition to proper initial construction, cage maintenance significantly contributes to overall hammer facility safety.

Conclusions

Because of its limited popularity and miniscule textual coverage, the hammer throw remains the most ignored and misunderstand event in track and field in the United States. The mystery surrounding the event in the United States may contribute to the reluctance of the NCAA to adopt the IAAF cage specifications. The new IAAF hammer cage design has helped reduce the risk of hammers landing on the track. However, the new specifications have not been adopted by the NCAA. Colleges and Universities across the United States may have to examine their present designs to determine the best way of improving the safety of the cage to match the new design adopted by the IAAF. The NCAA Division I colleges and universities may be putting themselves at risk by not exercising a standard of care for facility construction that is consistent with IAAF guidelines. The NCAA may have to examine their present facility requirements to determine the best way of improving the safety of the cage to match the new design adopted by the IAAF.

Applications in Sport

This investigation has several important implications for colleges and universities as well as individuals supervising track and field programs. First, the standard of care for hammer facilities has been elevated by the IAAF. Although not established as a universal standard by NCAA colleges and universities in the United States, the IAAF hammer cage may be considered a reasonably prudent guide for determining venue safety as noted in this investigation. It would be prudent for organizational leaders to plan and provide for at least the IAAF approved cage during the approval of any future track and field facility updates.

The NCAA Division I Colleges and Universities may be putting themselves at risk for negligence and potential litigation by not exercising a standard of care for facility construction that is consistent with IAAF guidelines. Four key elements must be present in order to legally establish negligence: 1) duty, 2) the act or breach of duty, 3) proximate cause, and 4) damages (9). These elements are often viewed as a progressive chain in which each successive “link” must be present.

Although this paper has focused specifically on the hammer throw, the basic facility design concepts and practices noted have application to numerous other sport venues where protection from flying projectiles is required. Other sport events and venues can benefit from an examination of safety standards from other venues, other regions, or even internationally. For example, the protection of spectators from foul balls in baseball or the protection of auto racing fans from flying debris of wreckage could both benefit from an examination of the protective equipment and measures in place at various venues and leagues regionally, nationally, and even globally. These types of comparisons and research can not only improve safety for all, but can lead toward the establishment of accepted industry standards.

References

Cotton, D., Wolohan, J. (2007). Law for recreation and sport managers (4th ed.), pp. 460-466. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt.

Connolly, H., (2006). History of the hammer throw. Retrieved from http://www.hammerthrow.com/technique/articles/history.htm

Dunn, G. & McGill, K. (1991). The throws manual. Palo Alto, CA: Track and Field News Press.

Gutiérrez, M., Soto, V.M., & Rojas, F.J. (2002). A biomechanical analysis of the individual techniques of the hammer throw finalists in the Seville Athletics World Championship 1999. IAAF New Studies in Athletics, 2,15-26.

IAAF. (2008). International Athletics Federation Rulebook. Retrieved from http://www.iaaf.org/

Laurel, B., Wilson, D., & Young, R. (2004). Hammer throw safety cages. IAAF New Studies in Athletics, 19(1), 47 -51.

Lewellyn, T.G. (2008). Alameda County Injury Attorney: Our Successes. Retrieved from http://www.lewellynlaw.com/lawyer-attorney-1076265.html

NCAA. (2008). NCAA division I track and field rulebook. Retrieved from http://www2.ncaa.org/…/media_and_events/ncaa_publications/playing_rules/fall/cross_country_track_field/index.html

Van der Smissen, B. (2007). “Elements of negligence”, In D. Cotton & J. Wolohan (Eds.). Law for recreation and sport managers (4th ed., pp. 36-45). Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.

Author Profiles

Lawrence Judge

Lawrence Judge is an associate professor and coordinator of the graduate coaching program at Ball State University. Dr. Judge has a long-established background in coaching elite level track and field athletes in the hammer throw and an extensive research background in coaching behavior, moral issues, and competitiveness versus participation in athletics, specifically in youth sports.

Jeffrey Petersen

Dr. Petersen is an assistant professor and coordinator of the graduate sport management program at Baylor University. Dr. Petersen’s research interests include sport management pedagogy the design and management of sport facilities. He is a regular presenter at conferences and annual meetings organized by the AAHPERD.

Corresponding Author

Lawrence Judge: lwjudge@bsu.edu

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