There is no symbol of construction like the hard hat. It is the most visible piece of personal protective equipment (PPE) we use and one of the most critical. Yet, it is also one of the least evolved. Hard hats in use today, by and large, are the same as the ones used a generation ago.
While the traditional hard hat provides impact protection to the top of the head, it has marginal effectiveness protecting against impacts to the front or back. A sudden movement, tilt of the head or, worse, a fall, generally means the hard hat flies off. In the latter case, it not only leaves the worker unprotected, but can also lead to the hard hat becoming a falling projectile. That can happen at any height, even a slip, trip or fall from ground level. When we do work at heights, we often tether our tools and workers are required to tie off. The same is not standard for hard hats.
Researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently released figures indicating that construction workers suffer more traumatic brain injuries than workers in any other field in the United States. Any step we can take to further protect workers is a necessary step.
We believe there is room for improvement and, if you see a Skanska job site, you may start to see a new look among some of our workers.
On several project sites, we are piloting the use of a construction helmet that, at first glance, might seem more at home on a hockey rink or rock-climbing wall. At first, we see workers look at them a bit funny, but after a week or so in practice, few have wanted to go back to the old-style hat. That’s because the benefits far outweigh any odd glances, and most deal with being safer:
– The hard hat is not only rated to protect effectively against impacts to the top of the head, but also the front and back. The truth is, most workers can probably think of times where they’ve scraped the front or back of their heads more often than something hitting the top of their hats. The new hat is obviously an upgrade. Normally, a blow to the front or back of a hard hat causes the hat to shift, which can lead to a blow to the head. Our new hats don’t do this.
– The chin strap keeps the hat in place. We say we stretch and flex every morning the same way an elite athlete does before a game. Similarly, most football and hockey players keep their helmets strapped on. So do bikers, rock climbers and more. It’s common sense that when you’re in motion, you should strap in for protection. The upshot is easy to imagine on a job site. You can look up or down with both hands free, not needing to hold the hat in place. In the event of an unforeseen motion, the hard hat stays in place. When working at heights, a hard hat that can be strapped on should be a no-brainer. In fact, we have started to require them in certain scenarios involving heights and exposure to wind.
– A side benefit is the visor for eye protection. Rated the same way safety glasses are, the visor provides more coverage, is attached to the hat (so no real way to forget to take safety glasses along) and, for the most part, never fogs up, a constant frustration with safety glasses.
– Lastly, feedback from the field says it’s actually pretty comfortable to wear.
You can imagine it’s already a big change for some craft workers to trade their hard hat for something new. Hard hats are often personalized and, in some cases, help tell the story of a worker’s career. It’s encouraging that so many workers have not only been willing to try something new, but that they’re willing to do so because, when you get right down to it, they want to be as safe as possible. They all want to go home to their friends and families every day.
So, if you see a Skanska site, take a look. More and more, we expect you’ll see the new hard hats in action. When you see them, know that it’s because the crew on the site is wearing them to further prevent head injuries.