Safety Guidelines



1. Introduction

These Guidelines for all age groups are issued by British Fencing to ensure that Fencing remains one of the safest sports. Please study them carefully and always follow them.
Almost all serious fencing injuries are caused by a broken blade, so please pay particular attention to sections 2(g) and 3.
Fencers should apply these Guidelines to anyone with whom they are fencing, as well. as to themselves If your opponent's blade is soft, for example, you are the one that may suffer if it breaks.
Coaches have a special responsibility for safety during training and should especially study section 4. They should also give very careful consideration to the circumstances in which they are prepared to instruct pupils who are not wearing protective clothing.
Referees are the guardians of safety in competitions. They have the authority to prevent the use of unsafe equipment and to penalise dangerous play; and it is in the best interests of the fencers and the sport that they should always do so.
These Guidelines have been drawn up in accordance with contemporary Rules for Competitions. In the event of these rules changing and laying down more rigorous safety requirements, the requirements of the rules will naturally override the Guidelines.
Accidents and injuries are rare in fencing. If everyone were to follow these guidelines all the time, they would be even rarer.
James Chambers
8th Edition - 1997

2) Fencers' Accident Prevention Responsibility: Fencers are responsible for ensuring that their personal equipment is in a safe condition, and in particular that it conforms to the following requirements:-
a) Masks: Fencers are strongly recommended to wear masks with 100mm bibs and should ensure when buying a new mask that the bib is of this length. No attempt should be made to repair the steel mesh of a mask; if the mask is weak or damaged, it should be thrown away. Masks should be checked for the following defects:
i) Weakness due to rusting.
ii) Softness, holes or excessive deformation from the original shape.
iii) The bib not properly sewn on.
iv) Gaps at the side or under the chin.
v) Poor means of retention on the head, making the mask liable to come off. To reduce the risk, British Fencing strongly recommends that every fencer wears a mask backstrap. A backstrap is mandatory for British Fencing competitions. Referees can apply to those without backstraps the same penalty as for appearing on the piste with equipment which does not confirm with the Rules for Competitions. A back-strap consists of elastic at least 2 inches wide, secured to the mask side mesh at each end, passing UNDER the mask spring piece at the back, and tensioned to keep the mask firmly in place.
b) Jackets & Breeches:
i) Jackets should be of the correct length and fastened on the opposite side to the sword arm.
ii) There should be a minimum of 4 inches (10cms) overlap between breeches and jacket when fencer is on guard.
iii) On no account should clothing be used which is damaged, show visible tears, or has been corroded or weakened by excessive use.
iv) With electric weapons, it is particularly important that light-weight jackets should not be used and that in epee a jacket made of material of over 12ozs per square yard is used.
v) Breeches should be closed below the knee.
vi) In non electric fencing only, proper breeches may be replaced by strong full-length trousers or tracksuit trousers, provided all pockets or zips are sewn up or taped.
vii) The strength of Kevlar protection clothing may be reduced if the Wash & Care instructions are not followed. Copies are available from Leon Paul Equipment, Units 1&2 Cedar Way, Camley St., London NW1 0JQ
c) Plastrons: These should be of a double thickness material with no seams under the armpit, and they should not be attached to the jacket in any way. A simple under-jacket or T-shirt is not sufficient. Plastrons should always be worn when fencing.
d) Socks: Socks should be long enough and remain OVER the knee during fencing.
e) Shoes: Shoes should have a sole which grips the floor, and should be replaced if the soles are worn smooth.
f) Gloves: The gauntlet should be long enough and firm enough to stretch and remain over the sleeve of the jacket whilst fencing. Gloves should not have any opening other than is necessary to admit the body wire, they should be inspected regularly and any holes and tears should be repaired.
g) Weapons: Weapons should be regularly checked to ensure they are in a safe usable condition.
Blades: Blades should be observed and tested to see whether any portion is "soft", that is to say whether any portion of the blade bends more than the rest. "Softness" indicates a dangerous weakness which may lead to a break
A 'soft' portion is indicated when a blade bends into an irregular or uneven curve. The portion which bends more than the rest is 'soft'. A new blade should be tested by placing the point on the floor and depressing the top about six inches and checking that it bends evenly. Blades can be checked similarly during the non-fencing breaks in a bout.
i) If blades develop sharp edges, these should be rounded with an emery cloth; they should NEVER be filed or ground.
ii) Sabre blade points should not have become sharp by continual scraping on the piste.
iii) The point of a non-electric foil must be covered with waxed thread, plastic, or with some other non-metallic material.
Guards: Continuous use of a weapon can leave very sharp edges round the guard circumference, and these can produce quite severe cuts on the opponent's knee, leg or hand. Such guards should not be used.
h) Women's Breast Protectors: Women fencers should consider carefully the type of breast protectors they wear. Well-developed fencers in particular should decide whether conventional protectors give them adequate all round protection or whether they would feel safer and more comfortable wearing protectors which provide greater coverage. These are available from a number of manufacturers.

FIE Requirements: The FIE has laid down equipment standards which fencers must observe in order to compete in the Olympic Games, in World Championships and in all 'A' grade events. These standards apply to masks, jackets, breeches and blades.

The British Fencing Board has decided that, except as may be laid down in these Guidelines, these standards will not apply to fencers in UK competitions (apart from 'A'; grade events). It will review this decision from time to time and will endeavour to give not less than one full Season's notice of any change (with the possible exception of blades).

3. Broken Blades: Penetration by a broken blade is almost the only cause of serious fencing injuries. One of the most important accident prevention measures is, therefore, to reduce the possibility of a blade breaking during a bout. There are three ways of doing this:

a) Never use a blade which shows signs of 'softness' (see 2(g) above). Consider using a blade made out of a special steel, such as maraging steel, which on average will last longer than a blade of conventional steel.
b) Never fence against anyone using a blade which shows signs of 'softness'.

4. Accident Prevention During Lessons: During lessons the instructor and pupil should wear full protective clothing (except for class instruction - see below). However, the instructor may consider that there are particular circumstances in which it is inappropriate for full protective clothing to be worn, but instructors must be aware of the dangers, in different circumstances, of not wearing any particular items of regulation clothing themselves, or of permitting their pupils not to do so, and should draw pupils' attention to the accident or injury which could result because full protective clothing is not worn.

Nevertheless, the following items should always be worn, even if the instructor is giving a lesson to an experienced pupil, because any relaxation will probably be copied by less experienced fencers.
The instructor should wear:- A mask; a fencing or teaching jacket; a teaching plastron, a glove; and some form of leg covering.
The pupil should wear:- A mask and a glove.
Instructors giving individual or class lessons must decide what clothing they wish their pupils to wear in order that they are not put at risk. However, if fencers are not wearing full protective clothing, the instructor must draw their attention to the fact that an accident or injury could result.
In law, the instructor will be considered to be negligent if a class member is injured during a class through a cause which is foreseeable. The instructor must ensure that:
a) The venue is adequate for the activity.
b) The venue has a fully equipped first aid kit.
c) The class does not exceed recommended numbers for the available space and the available number of instructors.
d) All fencers are aware of emergency evacuation procedures.
e) All fencers are aware of an established code of safety practice.
f) All fencers have been advised of the correct use of the equipment and the potential dangers of mishandling it.
g) All fencers have been told to stop fencing immediately if a blade breaks or a point or button falls off.
h) All fencers carry their weapons by the pommel with the points towards the floor when they are not fencing or practising.
i) All fencers have been taught not to put on their masks using both hands while holding a weapon.
If there are any fencers in the class who have health problems (e.g asthma, diabetes) which may cause difficulties during training, the instructor is fully aware of the best way of dealing with this.
NEVER give the instruction to begin fencing without checking that all fencers are wearing their masks correctly.
NEVER under any circumstances leave a class unattended.

5. Accident Prevention in Clubs and at Competitions: Club officers, instructors and all members of competition organising committees have responsibility for ensuring that the accident prevention precautions in respect of premises are observed. They should also ensure as far as practicable that individual fencers observe their own accident prevention responsibilities. They also have responsibility for ensuring that the rules to prevent accidents during lessons are observed.

Non-fencers should not use the fencing area as a thoroughfare, or if this is unavoidable, must take particular care when crossing an area on which fencing is taking place.
When laying out pistes, due consideration should be given: to the age group, the weapon and the standard of fencing; to enabling the president to be at a safe distance from the fencing on the pistes between which he is standing; and to the possibility of non-fencers being too close to the pistes.
The following should be minimum distances:
i) between the edges of adjacent pistes on the side where unattended boxes are placed: not less than 1 metre.
ii) between the edges of adjacent pistes on the side used for refereeing: 2.5 metres. If the distance is less, the referee should wear some form of protection, such as a mask or goggles.
iii) between any person (e.g. scores, box operators and standing, sitting or moving, spectators) and the edge of the piste: 1.25 metres.
iv) total distance between the rear line of two pistes placed end-on: not less than 2 metres.
v) at least 2 metres beyond each back line should remain unobstructed by a wall, chairs, cables, fencing equipment or by anything else which might trip up a fencer passing quickly over the back line either backwards or forwards or which might injure a fencer who collides with it.
Competition organisers should ask referees as far as practicable to ensure that these Guidelines are observed, in particular those concerning personal equipment, including a check that proper plastrons are worn, and the recommendation concerning spectators and officials. Checks on competitors' personal equipment, especially blades and masks (using a mask tester), are strongly recommended.

6. Premises: The following accident prevention requirements relate to the premises used by fencers and to the area where fencing take place.

a) The fencing area should be such that fencers performing all normal but nevertheless fast fencing movements are not in danger of slipping.
b) A length of at least 2 metres beyond each back line should remain unobstructed by a wall, chairs, cables, fencing equipment, or by anything else which might trip up a fencer passing quickly over the back line wither backwards or forwards, or which might injure a fencer who collides with it.
c) Spectators should not be allowed so near the sides of the piste that there is a risk of collision with a fencer who fleches off the piste nor any risk that they may be struck by a weapon, due for instance to a wide parry. Furthermore, spectators should not be so near the sides of the piste that they force the referee, judge, scorer, or person working the box so close to the piste that they risk these dangers.
d) Cables on the ground should be arranged so that they will not trip up fencers or spectators and should be taped down.

7. Mains Operated Equipment:

a) Mains operated equipment should not be used unless it is correctly earthed using a plug with an earth pin.
b) Mains cables should not be extended by joining to another cable. The cable from the mains supply plug to the equipment should be a single continuous length.
c) Only heavy duty mains cable should be used.
d) Mains cables should not be run over or under the metallic piste.
e) It is dangerous to open the case or to attempt any repair on mains operated equipment if anyone is connected to the equipment.
f) A fuse should not be replaced before a qualified electrician has found and rectified the fault which caused the fuse to blow.
g) Electrical equipment should be used only if it is made by a reputable manufacturer and it should not be modified except by the manufacturer.

8. Legal Responsibility: A fencer is generally deemed at Law to accept the ordinary risks involved in fencing. Excluding from this general statement are fencers who come into certain limited categories, notably those Under 18.

Examples of ordinary risks which a fencer is deemed to accept are accidents arising from breakage of blades, or from normal bodily contact with an opponent, arising in the normal course of a bout. However, a fencer may possibly be legally liable if he injures an opponent by an action which is illegal under the Rules of fencing or is recklessly violent, or if he or she knowingly uses an unsafe blade.
h) All fencers are strongly recommended to obtain insurance cover by joining the British Fencing Association.
This cover is provided automatically among the benefits of membership. Fencers should avoid any risk of legal liability by fencing within the Rules and ensuring that their equipment is safe.
The British Fencing Rules for Competitions make it clear that each fencer is responsible for the safety of his own equipment and that the organisers and referees are not responsible. Organisers of competitions will normally wish to include a clause on entry forms, pool sheets and brochures advertising competitions seeking to exclude liability. A suggested form of words is as follows:
"Each fencer is personally responsible for making sure that his or her clothing and equipment conform to the FIE and British Fencing rules and are in good condition. Neither British Fencing nor the organisers of the competition, nor any official or referee involved in the competition is responsible for these matters, or for any accident, loss or damage to persons or property however caused".
The degree of liability which may fall on organisers and referees is unclear. In any event, they should take care to ensure so far as is reasonably possible that the Rules governing safety of equipment and conduct are properly enforced.
When fencers under the age of 18 are entering a competition, the entry form should contain provision for it to be signed not only by the competitor but also by a parent or guardian consenting to the fencer taking part in the competition.
The BFA has an indemnity policy against legal liability. The insurers have agreed that all BFA competitions fall within this policy.

9. Accident Report: British Fencing has a responsibility to keep safety standards under constant review and to improve them when ever possible. One of the most important ways of doing this is by reviewing all accidents which are serious enough to cause a fencer to abandon a competition or to take no further part in a club session or a fencing course; or which prevent an official from continuing his duties or compel a spectator to leave the premises. A person with first hand knowledge of such a fencing accident is therefore asked to complete a British Fencing Accident Report and send it to the BFA Secretary as soon after the accident as possible

10. First Aid: Club and competition premises should have a first aid box available. There is usually considerable difficulty in positioning the box where it can be quickly found when needed but at the same time is not accessible to fencers who wish to use adhesive tape and other items to repair weapons and clothing. Club Chairman and Competition Organisers should find the best solution for their particular circumstances. Regularly, before and after each competition, the box should be checked and restocked as necessary.

When a doctor or someone with first-aid knowledge is present among club members or competitors, there should be some means of finding them quickly if needed. Clubs and competition organisers should know the telephone number of the nearest doctor and hospital, and this information should be clearly displayed in all fencing premises, together with the position of the nearest telephone.
The minimum contents of a first-aid box should be:- One pair of scissors; one box adhesive plaster (eg Elastoplast); two triangular bandages; two 2" crepe bandages; one 3" crepe bandage; safety pins; one small bottle disinfectant (eg Dettol); one packet sterile gauze swabs; approx 2ozs cotton wool; one roll 1" adhesive tape (eg Micropore or Elastoplast); one packet adhesive strip (eg Steristrips); one small bottle Tinct.Benz.Co. (Friars Balsam); Polythene bag to hold ice cubes.
Cold treatment of sprains and pulled muscles is most easily and cheaply obtained by using ice cubes. Alternatives are a PR spray which is quick and easy to use on the piste, or commercially available and chemically activated packs which become extremely cold when crumpled and are small enough to be bandaged in place enabling the fencer to continue on the piste.
First-aid treatment needs care and thought. Use common sense in how you apply these guidelines so as to avoid making matters worse by incorrect intervention.
Organisers of competitions should consider inviting a member of the St. John Ambulance or Red Cross to be present.
The following are suitable procedures:-
Cuts: If cuts are dirty, they must first be cleaned with disinfectant and cotton wool, working from the cut outwards. Cover small cuts with adhesive plaster. For larger cuts, clean and dry the edges, and then bring the edges together with adhesive strips (Steristrip). These, however, do not stick well to hot sweaty skin. It is best to dry the skin on either side of the wound as thoroughly as possible then, using a gauze swab, apply Tinct.Benz.Co. to the dried skin and then immediately apply the Steristrip. The wound can then be covered with gauze, held in place by Micropore or crepe bandage, or by elastoplast or something similar.
Serious Bleeding: The way to stop serious bleeding is by direct pressure on the wound. Do NOT apply tourniquets. Do NOT try to find pressure points unless you know exactly what you are doing.
If the casualty has lost a lot of blood and is becoming shocked (pale, sweaty and anxious), lay the casualty on the back and raise both legs in the air to an angle of about 45 degrees.
This manoeuvre should help improve the casualty's condition and gain valuable time in a crises.
Blisters: Do NOT break the blister. Protect it with cotton wool held in place by a crepe bandage.
Serious Injury: In the event of serious injury, such as a broken limb or penetration by a broken blade, the best procedures are as follows:-
Broken Limb/Dislocation: Move the casualty as little as possible. Provide comfortable support to the injury. Give nothing to eat or drink.
Broken Blade Penetration of the Body: In practice the broken blade will have been removed because in all known cases to date, the broken blade has been instinctively withdrawn immediately after the accident by the fencer holding the broken weapon. If the wound is clearly superficial it may be treated like any cut. If there is doubt about the depth of the wound, or its seriousness, the casualty should be taken directly to hospital. If waiting for an ambulance is likely to lead to dangerous delay, consideration should be given to taking the casualty to hospital by any suitable means.
a) If the chest is injured, support the casualty in a sitting position, if possible leaning towards the injured side.
b) If the abdomen is injured, place the casualty on the back with the knees drawn up, in as comfortable a position as possible.

c) If the head is injured, the casualty, if unconscious, should be placed in the semi-prone position.