Hard hats have protected the heads of construction and industrial workers for 100 years, according to Bullard, the company that pioneered the “skull bucket” and now manufactures a range of personal protective equipment (PPE).
However, the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America reports that a new trend is coming to PPE for the heads of workers: safety helmets.
“The next generation, the ones that are just starting to be seen on construction sites, are a lot more like a helmet a mountain climber might wear, or a hockey player, or a kid on a bicycle,” G. Scott Earnest of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health told The New York Times in a 2019 article, “The Evolution of the Hard Hat.”
Companies are required to provide protective headgear for employees working in conditions where head injuries can occur from slips, falling or flying objects, or from electrical shock and burns, according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Much like other PPE such as safety glasses, safety boots, and face masks, safety helmets give industrial workers, contractors, and visitors “protection from hidden and obvious hazards present at the workplace,” Bahaa Alsayed, an OSHA/NASP authorized trainer, wrote in a 2018 LinkedIn post.
Online emergency management degrees such as Eastern Kentucky University’s online Master of Science in Safety, Security and Emergency Management (MSSSEM) program can prepare professionals to stay abreast of new hard hat technology developments and safety protocols. The program offers customized tracks for a range of occupational health and safety careers.
The Differences Between Hard Hats and Safety Helmets
Hard hats and safety helmets are similar products that help protect the heads of construction workers and workers in allied trades. However, due to the advancements of new hard hat technology, protective headgear options boast some major differences, including:
- Difference in materials. Most of the hard hats in use today are made from polyethylene, according to HD Supply. Previously, materials like leather, steel, aluminum, fiberglass, plastic, and sometimes canvas were used to make hard hats.
- More features. Old versions of hard hats did not offer any extra safety protections other than the hat itself. Today’s options feature ventilation, face shields, earmuffs, visors, perspiration liners, lights, radios, or walkie-talkies, according to HD Supply.
- Costs vary. According to the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America, hard hats typically cost about $20 each, whereas safety helmets range in price from roughly $80 to $150.
- Some safety helmets may feel heavier than traditional hard hats because of added impact resistance, according to the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America.
- An average hard hat can be used for about five years, according to the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America. Safety helmets are estimated to last about double the lifespan of a hard hat, or around 10 years.
Some workers prefer climbing-style helmets to hard hats, James Cooper, 3M’s global business manager for head and face protection, told Occupational Health and Safety Magazine in a 2020 interview titled “Understanding Modern Head Protection.
“Climbing-style helmets are also designed to have a chin strap to help hold them on the wearer’s head. Some safety managers are encouraging the use of chin straps, and some workers are finding that these helmets are more comfortable as a system with a chin strap,” he said.
The History of Hard Hats
During World War 1, U.S. Army Lieutenant Edward Bullard, founder of Bullard, witnessed the benefits that helmets offered soldiers at war. After his return to San Francisco, he patented a version of a hard hat made from canvas and glue, according to the company website.
Bullard’s hard hats, known as the “Hard Boiled brand miner’s helmet” back in the day, were the “first commercially available head protection device” for industrial workers, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
Miners and U.S. Navy shipyard workers were among some of the first to wear the protective helmet. Bullard acquired additional patents to develop new versions of the safety helmet for different industries.
- 1919: Bullard creates the first hard hat from canvas and glue. The helmet was covered in shellac “to give it durability and strength,” according to Smithsonian Magazine.
- 1931: Workers building the Hoover Dam were the first to be required to wear hard hats, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
- 1938: Bullard designs and produces the first aluminum hard hat.
- 1940s: Bullard develops a fiberglass helmet resistant to heat.
- 1950s: Bullard begins to use thermoplastics because the material is more cost-effective and “better suited for the applications,” according to Bullard. Using a helmet mold, the company was one of the first to produce a hard hat made from thermoplastics.
- 1960s: Bullard changes materials again and begins producing hard hats from polyethylene, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
- 1982: Bullard adds a “non-slip ratchet suspension with a knob” on the back side of the helmet for “simple sizing,” according to the company. The redesign came after one of Bullard’s clients said the hard hats were lacking the necessary suspension for laborers in the field.
- 2000s: All safety helmets are made from plastic, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
- 2020: Bullard’s safety helmets include foam padding and chin straps made for industrial workers, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
The demand for safety helmets is on the rise and is projected to increase through 2023, according to a 2018 report from the Global Safety Helmets Industry published on MarketWatch.
Staying up to date on hard hats and other protective technology is essential for professionals responsible for the safety of workers on construction sites and in similar fields. An online master’s degree in safety, security and emergency management can provide the educational foundation necessary for leadership in occupational safety and related careers.
About Eastern Kentucky University’s Online Master of Science in Safety, Security and Emergency Management Program
EKU’s online emergency management degree program allows students to customize their experience through a Multidisciplinary Track or with concentrations in Corporate Security Operations, Occupational Safety, or Emergency Management and Disaster Resilience.
The concentrations are also available as stand-alone graduate certificates, independent of a master’s degree. Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission accredits EKU. For more information, contact Eastern Kentucky University now.
History of the Bullard Hart Hard: Bullard
Are Safety Helmets Coming for Your Hard Hat?: Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America
The Evolution of the Hard Hat: The New York Times
1926.100 – Head protection: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Top 7 Major Benefits of Safety Helmets: LinkedIn
The Rise of Safety Helmets in Construction: HD Supply
Understanding Modern Head Protection: Occupational Health and Safety Magazine
The History of the Hard Hat: Smithsonian Magazine
Safety Helmets Industry 2018 Global Market Growth, Size, Demand, Trends, Insights and Forecast 2023: MarketWatch