The design of hard hats in the construction industry hasn’t changed much in the past 40 years. They are basically a brimmed shell attached to a suspended, adjustable headband. But designs are changing, and helmets used in mountain climbing and other sports are now being adapted for construction workers.
Helmets – not hard hats – were introduced because they have been believed to provide better side impact protection than traditional hard hats. They won’t tumble away if a worker falls. If an employee is working on a ladder, for example, and falls, his head is thrown backwards and the hard hat falls off, which could lead to more dangerous issues – a brain injury. Brain injuries led to over 900 construction deaths from 2011 through 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s unclear how many of these fatalities began with a fall, however.
About three years ago, the National Institute for Occupational Safety (NIOSH) announced it was going to review construction hard hats to quantify head and neck protection and recommend improvements.
Will helmet adoption go far? Well, that depends on a few factors, such as expectations from general contractors who hire subcontractors, and helmet purchase costs. Some companies are only requiring employees to wear safety helmets when exposed to potential falls. Others are requiring a chin strap on regular hard hats. Regardless, change is coming.
Safety helmet purchase costs could be a problem for small builders and subcontractors. OSHA rule (29 C.F.R. 1926.100) requires employers to provide head protection equipment that meets or exceeds industry consensus standard ANSI Z89.1 issued 2009. It also requires employers to provide safety equipment free to workers. Most of these safety helmets start around $110, depending on the model. Flip-up visors are an additional $50, which ultimately replace safety glasses. Bulk discounts can reduce costs, but so does competition, and so far, only a few companies are even offering helmets meeting the ANSI Z89.1 requirements.
Photos and information courtesy of www.bna.com.