From Hard Hats to Helmets

Author: Leah Cooper

Helmets are daily essentials on the worksite. Today helmets are so commonplace they are so often taken for granted by their wearers, it can be difficult to imagine a time when helmets were not the safety standard. Across industries, helmets have been adopted as a common-sense means of protection: protection from falling objects, impacts, and projectiles. From sporting equipment to industrial PPE, our headwear has evolved from personal choice to mandated measure.

Today, we know the severe and long-term harm American footballers face after years of concussions and traumatic impacts on the field. Regulations and equipment have been re-engineered continuously to protect our players and protect the game by extension. But according to football's origins in the states, helmets were not essential gear for the earliest players. In fact, the first football helmet recorded was worn by Admiral Joseph Mason Reeves for the Army-Navy match in 1893; that leather helmet was made by an Annapolis shoemaker at Reeve's doctor's recommendation. Leather helmets would be designed and customized by the players for their preferences, but it was not until the 1950s that helmet use became part of the official sport's regulations.

It may seem odd that helmets didn't become widely used by footballers until almost 60 years since the first leagues were founded, but safety headgear was not a common thought in earlier eras. Even in the most high-risk workplaces, employees endured hazardous conditions without the safety regulations enforced today. In one of the most famous cases, in 1848, railroad worker Phineas Gage was directing a work gang blasting rock to make room for the new roadbeds when a metal bar propelled by the explosion impaled Gage through the skull. Luckily Gage survived the incident, although not without losing a significant amount of brain tissue. But large and statistically unlikely incidents are not the primary concern for today's construction workers: falling objects are one of the greatest at-work threats builders face. Even a screwdriver that's rolled off the scaffolding from several stories high becomes a lethal weapon.

Today's helmets reduce, although they do not eliminate entirely, much of the risk workers face from falling objects on the worksite. Helmets paired with further PPE, like tool tie-downs, protect workers from avoidable accidents. It is important to follow OSHA guidelines to inspect headwear, harnesses, are more; as well, stay current with the most updated gear as mandated by safety protocols. There is good reason to adopt improved versions of your existing equipment.

The construction helmet we know today has changed drastically over time. Luckily, today's helmets require minute adjustments and changes; we seem to have solidified the science on head protection. The first construction helmets were leather, like footballer's helmets. Hardboiled leather and canvas made a thick shell, but it was not impenetrable. Later versions would be modeled after the Brodie 1915 steel combat helmet used by soldiers in World War One, otherwise known as the "doughboy helmet," as typical attire for the American army. However, steel has its drawbacks— steel was heavy and more expensive to produce due to processing: untreated steel helmets needed to be sanded and painted to prevent oxidation. So in time, manufacturers began producing aluminum helmets. Aluminum helmets were prolific throughout the 1950s. They were sturdy and light. Unfortunately, aluminum is a conductive material, putting workers at high risk for electrocution.

Instead of metals, in the modern era, fiberglass would become the new standard for safety helmets. While heat-resistant and non-conductive, fiberglass was shortly replaced by thermoplastics. Thermoplastics are used throughout manufacturing for construction goods, automotive parts, medical equipment, and more. Cheap, versatile, and injection-molded thermoplastics were the sensible choice for PPE manufacturers and contractors alike. Today a similar material, polyethylene plastic, dominates the PPE market. Polyethylene is durable, strong, non-conductive, light, and easy to form into just the right shape. The helmets you buy today feature air vents to keep the wearers cool without damaging the helmet's structural integrity and an adjustable strap at the base of the skull to make helmet fitting accurate and straightforward.

For more information about helmet use or help identifying the specific helmet, you need for your worksite, visit OSHA. Contact GES today about procuring helmets and other PPE for your project at prices that protect your wallet and head. They are necessary: helmets protect against head trauma, head and neck injuries, and electrical shock.

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