Not everyone who cycles wears a helmet and it is not compulsory in Ireland – but is that a wise move? No, according to Acquired Brain Injury Ireland (ABI). If you are looking for proof that it is more than a good idea, just think of the 50% increase in fatalities among pedal cyclists in 2017.

The latest injuires recorded by the Road Safety Authority also showed that 107 pedal cycle users experienced serious injuries, while 755 had minor injuries. Unfortunately there is no record of how many pedal cyclists involved in all these accidents wore helmets. This is in contrast to motorbike and vehicle accidents, where seat-belt usage and crash-helmet use is noted.

“Brain injury is a hidden phenomenon in our society,” says Barbara O’Connell, CEO of ABI Ireland. “It happens to 35 people in this country every day, often leaving them with a chronic and ongoing condition that can affect their lives and those of their family for months, years and even decades after the initial injury.”

An estimated 13,000 people acquire a brain injury every year in Ireland. These can be the result of stroke, assault, concussion, viral infections and road-traffic accidents – including pedal-cycling accidents.

Wearing a helmet when cycling dramatically reduces the risk of a serious head or brain injury in the event of a collision, the CEO says. “Wearing a helmet reduces the severity of the brain injury by absorbing the impact from the collision. This, in turn, reduces the amount of time a person spends in recovery and rehabilitation.

“The reality is that – regardless of whether people are cycling for leisure, or commuting, or taking part in a race – unforeseen events can happen that can cause any cyclist to suddenly come off that bike. When that happens, especially if it’s at speed, they will have no control about how they hit the ground or impact their head,” Barbara explains.

Brain injuries are not always caused by highly dramatic events either, she points out. “Many are simply unforeseen. We have seen situations where an individual was cycling home and a pedestrian suddenly stepped out in front of him, causing a collision. That individual was not wearing a helmet and is now in a wheelchair going through rehabilitation – both physically and to tackle neuro-deficits, such as impaired memory and speech.”

The CEO is not exaggerating the importance of a helmet. In 2016, Australian researchers showed that cycle helmets reduce the risk of serious head injury by nearly 70% – and that of fatal head injury by 65%.

At an international safety conference in Finland, delegates pushed for all countries to develop strategies to improve helmet-wearing as part of any national cycling safety plans.

Researchers at Cardiff University in Wales emphasised helmet importance too, finding that they protect riders from skull fractures and brain bruising and swelling.

But are helmets turning people off taking up cycling because it gives the impression of a dangerous activity? Some public health experts have suggested that the emphasis on helmet use is putting people off taking up cycling and therefore stopping them trying to tackle their obesity problems. The Cochrane Review found no scientific evidence to show that mandatory cycle helmet laws discourage cycling or that cyclists who wear them take more risks on the road.

ABI Ireland wants to see cycle helmet use made compulsory. “They are proven to be of benefit in preventing serious brain injuries. We would advocate wearing them even for short journeys.

“Coming off a bike and risking an injury to the head can happen at any time, even during a short commuter bike rental or cycle for leisure. In our view, wearing a helmet is a no-brainer. It’s really not worth the risk of going without one,” Barbara advises. CL

ABI is Ireland’s leading provider of community rehabilitation for those of working age (18-65) living with and recovering from an acquired brain injury. See for a cycling safety booklet from Road Safety Authority.

Wash your hands to prevent illness spreading

World Hand Hygiene Day is coming up on Saturday 5 May, so it’s time to think again about why you should bother – and constantly bother – to wash your hands.

It’s the simplest way of saving you, your family and your co-workers from becoming ill, so why not give it a go, if you are not doing it already?

Washing your hands regularly and properly can reduce the spread of illnesses such as tummy bugs, coughs, colds, and even superbugs. At home we can all help do that by using soap and water or, in healthcare settings, alcohol gel.

But are you washing your hands properly? “It is important for everyone to realise how vital proper hand washing is,” says Professor Martin Cormican, HSE national lead for antibiotic resistance. “Good hand hygiene involves following simple steps every time we wash our hands to ensure that all parts of the hands are clean.”

He goes on to share some unsettling news: “Surfaces that look clean often have billions of bacteria and viruses, so you can pick them up from touching most surfaces.”

He goes on to explain that international studies have shown that faecal contamination (poo) is found on a wide variety of surfaces, including bank notes; bar snacks; shopping bags; computer keyboards; mobile phones; wrist bands; ice cubes; kitchen taps; cleaning cloths and kitchen surfaces.

“So you can see why it is really important that you wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water and then dry them on a clean towel,” says the Professor.

Dr Nuala O Connor, GP, says that washing your hands is one of the easiest ways to protect yourself and others from illnesses such as vomiting, diarrhoea, coughs, colds, sore throat, flu – in fact, virtually all infections.

“No one would want to touch or eat faeces, but millions of us across the world do that every day by not washing our hands properly. Many infectious diseases are spread through microscopic amounts of faecal matter (poo). Teaching your children the life skill of handwashing is obviously important.”


  • • When you have been in contact with a person or an animal with an infection.
  • • When you get back to your home after being out and about or at work – especially if your work involves a lot of contact with people or animals.
  • • Before starting to prepare or handle food.
  • • After touching raw meat, including poultry.
  • • Before eating food.
  • • After using the toilet and after changing nappies.

  • • Warm running water.
  • • Plain liquid soap.
  • • A clean towel at home or paper towels outside of the home.
  • • Avoid bar soaps and fancy soaps and cloth towels, as they usually have bugs on them.
  • • Avoid using “antibacterial” soaps, as they don’t offer any benefit and may actually increase the risk of resistant germs.
  • • Change towels regularly at home.
  • • Alcohol gel can be used instead of washing your hands with soap and water, but it is not effective against some bugs.

  • • In 2012, scientists found 1,458 new species of bacteria living just in the bellybutton of human beings. Everyone’s bellybutton ecology is unique, like a fingerprint.
  • • Tea towels have 20,000 times more bacteria than toilet seats, surpassed only by sponges (with 200,000 times more). So let the dishes air-dry.

    Germs have the opportunity to be spread on public transport because of handrails, seats and ticket touchscreens. While these have thousands of billions of microbes, Harvard research indicates they are not actually very dangerous for humans.

    Holding on to handrails, they say, is about the same as shaking someone’s hand. But when you reach the office, make sure to wash your hands before starting work or eating anything.


    The real danger is not the toilet but the handles and taps, experts say so:

  • • Don’t touch the toilet seat with your hands if it’s visibly dirty.
  • • Drying your hands with paper towel will reduce the bacterial count by 45% to 60% on your hands.
  • • Using a hand dryer will increase the bacteria on your hands by up to 255%, because it blows out bacteria already living in the conveniently warm, moist environment!

    Ever wonder how long it should take to wash your hands? As long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday – that’s how long. Rinsing your fingers isn’t the way to go…


    There are lots of tips on hand hygiene on, and you can learn all about bacteria on including how to do some “bug” home science experiments. See for more information about WHO World Hand Hygiene Day 2018 and helpful videos and information about good hand hygiene