Hard Hat Future: Advanced Designs and Features Offer Greater Protection for Workers

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By Seth Skydel

In what could become a standard across the crane industry, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that it is replacing traditional hard hats used by its employees with more modern safety helmets, which offer better protection due to their design features.

The agency noted that it wants employers to make safety and health a core value in their workplaces and is committed to doing the same by leading by example and embracing the evolution of head protection.

OSHA recommends safety helmets be used by people working at construction sites and when working from heights as well as when required by regulations or industry standards. In November 2023, OSHA published a Safety and Health Information Bulletin detailing key differences between traditional hard hats and more modern safety helmets and the advancements in design, materials and other features that help protect workers' entire heads better.

For example:

  • Today's safety helmets may offer face shields or goggles to protect against projectiles, dust and chemical splashes. 

  • Today’s safety helmets may offer built-in hearing protection and/or systems to enable clear communication in noisy environments.

  • Traditional hard hats protect the top of a worker's head but have minimal side impact protection and lack chin straps. Without the straps, hard hats can fall off a worker's head if they slip or trip, leaving them unprotected.

  • Traditional hard hats lack vents and trap heat inside.

OSHA has also updated its recommended uses for safety helmets, which now include  construction sites, the oil and gas industry, electrical work, working from heights, high-temp environments, specialized work environments, specific regulatory environments, and low-risk environments.

Why is safety helmet use critical?

Joe Brandel, business development manager at Mips, explained the reasons:

  • A relatively unknown common cause of concussions: Many accidents around the head do not occur linearly but at an angle. As a result, so-called rotational movements can act on the head and brain, which can lead to severe brain traumatic injuries.

  • Nearly 1 in 5 workplace deaths occurred in construction in 2021: Over 1/3 of all fatalities were due to slips, trips, and falls.

Traditional hard hats may fail in common workplace accidents, Brandel also noted. For example, Type 1 hard hats are designed to protect wearers from impacts to the top of the head only. The problem is that these helmets often fail to protect workers from head injuries during slips, trips, and falls if they fall off the wearer’s head.

The goal is to improve head protection by reducing harmful rotational motion caused by an angled impact from a worker falling or being struck by a falling object. In certain angled impacts, Mips safety systems can reduce harmful forces that may otherwise be transmitted to the head. A low-friction layer inside the helmet, for instance, allows multi-directional movement on certain angled impacts, intended to help reduce rotational force to the head. 

Mips has teamed up with safety helmet manufacturers to include its low-friction layer systems in construction helmets and hard hats. The company is also focused on helmet testing with their Virtual Test Lab (VTL) to predict how new helmets will perform in real-life impacts more quickly and efficiently than physical testing.

Seth Skydel is a writer with 38 years of experience covering the trucking, utility, construction, and related markets.




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