An industrial design student in Australia has fabricated a new self-fitting neck brace to help prevent spinal injuries when rescuing people from the surf.
Unlike traditional neck braces, the new design, called ResQ, could be fitted to accident victims before they are brought to shore and could be used by a rescuer without extra specialist training.
Anna Jacobsen, a postgraduate student at the Queensland University of Technology, herself a former volunteer lifesaver, observed, "Surf lifesavers have a lot of equipment to assist patients out of the water, but there is currently no equipment for moving a patient in the water."
"If a spinal injury is suspected often the lifesaver must wait in the wash zone until more help arrives. This wash zone can agitate the patient's injuries and result in further injury.
"Also, injuries can happen as the person is being transported out of the water."
Ms Jacobsen, who comes from a family of surf lifesavers in Lennox Head, has designed a neck brace that fits around a modified lifesavers' tube, the yellow floatation device commonly used to float people in the surf.
"The neck brace consists of two rings, which individually clip around the neck of the patient and can be adjusted to suit a wide variety of beach goers," she said.
"Joining these two rings together is an inflatable bladder which is activated by pulling a toggle at the back of the brace, which inflates to support the neck, similar to the support of inflatable life vests."
Ms Jacobsen said the inflating bladder took away the need for the rescuer to have specialised training, as is required for the use of existing neck braces.
She calculates that the modified tube and neck brace could be produced more cheaply than the existing equipment used by lifesavers.
The device still requires medical testing, which could be undertaken with commercial support.
"There are 52 spinal injuries each month on Queensland beaches, and 80 per cent of spinal injuries involve the neck," she said.