History of Hard Hats

(Updated July 2020)

Hard hats are important safety items for today’s industrial workers. Mandated by OSHA to be worn at a variety of worksites, hard hats help protect the head from a wide range of hazards,  including:

– Flying objects

– Collisions

– Falling debris

– Electrical shocks.

Hard hats save lives and prevent injuries on the job — and have done so for many years.

The Role of Hard Hats in the History of Construction Worker Safety

Also known as construction safety helmets, modern hard hats are updated versions of ancient battle helmets that have been in use for close to 4,000 years. One of the earliest helmets was unearthed near the ancient Greek city of Mycenae. Scholars date it at around 1700 BC, near the end of the Bronze Age. This early helmet consisted of pieces of ivory made from boar tusks. The tusk pieces were attached to a leather cap with felt padding on the inside. The boar tusk helmet did not provide the same level of protection as a metal helmet. But, the boar tusk helmet helped protect the head against injuries.

Metal helmets were first introduced sometime during the early Bronze Age (between 3000 and 2100 BC). Scholars have not been able to determine a precise date for their invention. The earliest metal helmets were made of bronze. Over time, helmet-makers began to use harder metals, such as steel, for additional protection. Over the centuries, many different types of helmets were invented. They all had one main purpose: to protect the head during battle.

From War to the Worksite

With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, it became necessary to protect the head on the job. The first construction safety helmets were developed by workers, not employers. Dock workers, who often got injured from objects falling off ships, were among the first to create their own helmets. They did this by smearing their soft hats with tar and letting them dry in the sun. These homemade helmets offered protection against some — but not all — head injuries.

From there, homemade helmets began spreading to other industries. This led to the introduction of the first commercial hard hat in 1919. This hard hat was developed by Bullard, a small company that supplied equipment to mining companies in the western U.S. Using his doughboy helmet from World War I as a model, Edward Dickinson Bullard designed a protective helmet for miners. Soon after, the U.S. Navy commissioned Bullard to design and build a safety helmet for shipyard workers.

In the 1930s, two massive construction projects — the Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam — brought mainstream attention to safety helmets. Both projects involved large numbers of workers who were required to complete tasks in dangerous environments. The lead engineer for the Golden Gate Bridge asked Bullard to adapt his miner hat to protect bridge workers against head injuries. Bullard complied, and the bridge project became the first designated hard hat area. Bullard also created a special hard hat for workers who blasted sand. This hard hat simultaneously covered the face and allowed workers to see through a window. It also provided air from a compressor to help workers breathe.

Building the Hoover Dam required drilling rock on steep cliffs, and the dam proved to be a difficult and risky project. Many workers died from being hit by falling rocks during the construction of the Hoover Dam. To protect themselves against rocks and other hazards, workers began making their own hard hats. They coated cloth hats with coal tar and called them “hard-boiled” hats. These homemade helmets were effective, and in many instances, helped prevent the loss of life.

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Stronger, Lighter Hard Hats

As time passed, manufacturers began using new materials to make hard hats stronger and easier to wear. In the late 1930s, hard hats were introduced that were made with aluminum and plastic. These hard hats were both lightweight and strong. Meanwhile, aluminum hard hats were not allowed to be used for jobs involving electricity. The “shock guard” helmet was invented to protect workers against electric shocks up to 10,000 volts.

Fiberglass hard hats were common during the 1940s. In the 1950s, thermoplastic became the leading hard hat material. Thermoplastic was easy to mold and shape using heat, and it was inexpensive to produce thermoplastic hard hats. The first polycarbonate hard hat was unveiled in 1961. These days, most hard hats are made from high-density polyethylene or advanced engineering resins.

Depending on the job, modern hard hats can have different features. These include:

– Face shields

– Earmuffs

– Mirrors

– Headlamps

– Radios

– Pagers

– Cameras

Some hard hats have a rolled edge that drains rainwater off the front of the hat as well. The rolled edge prevents water from rolling down the back of the worker’s neck.

OSHA Hard Hat Regulations

OSHA began issuing hard hat guidelines during the 1970s. In general, workers are required to wear protective headgear in any work environment where burns, electrical injuries, falling or flying objects, and irregular or moving surfaces could cause an injury. However, specific guidelines vary based on industry. OSHA doesn’t require all workers to wear hard hats, either.

Hard hats are designed to resist penetration and absorb the shock of a blow. To achieve these goals, hard hats are made with two parts: the shell and the suspension. Both parts must be in good working condition to properly protect the head. The shell must be hard enough to resist an impact. Comparatively, the suspension uses a shock-absorbing headband liner and crown strap to keep the shell away from a worker’s head.

Hard hats come in different classes, and all of them defend against penetration from falling objects and the shock of blows to the head. Two classes are customized to protect against electrical shocks. Class G helmets protect against low-voltage shocks, up to 2,200 volts. Class E helmets protect against high-voltage electricity, up to 20,000 volts. Both Class G and E helmets are designed to absorb the shock of blows to the head like other hard hats.

Hard Hat Colors

Hard hat color codes make it possible to identify the type of worker or manager at a glance. Each color represents a certain type of job or position.

Today’s hard hat color codes consist of the following designations:

White: Denotes a supervisor, manager, engineer or foreman.

Green: Usually worn by safety officers or inspectors; sometimes by new workers.

Yellow: Worn by heavy machinery operators and general construction laborers.

Brown: These workers perform welding or other high-heat jobs.

Orange: The main color for road construction workers.

Red: Firefighters and other workers with emergency training wear red hats.

Grey: Reserved for visitors to the job site.

Blue: Mostly worn by electricians and carpenters; sometimes by technical advisors.

Pink: Popular with women workers; often issued to males who forget to bring their hard hat to work.

Of course, for those who work at a construction site, they may see hard hats in an assortment of colors. Along with wearing hard hats, construction workers must also account for ways to ensure their work zones are safe.

Construction Work Zone Safety: Why Is It Important?

Construction workers are exposed to many dangers every day. Although construction workers may wear hard hats and other protective gear to guard against injuries and fatalities, these workers must recognize the importance of on-the-job safety in their regular activities. Otherwise, if construction workers ignore safety measures, they could put themselves or others in danger.

Workplace safety training can help construction workers develop safe work environments where each employee is protected. This training can also provide construction workers with tips they can use to enhance on-the-job safety now and in the future.

Construction Worker Safety Tips

Some of the best ways to minimize risk at construction sites include:

– Provide workers with hard hats and other personal protective equipment (PPE) and ensure this equipment fits and functions properly.

– Keep work areas free of dirt, debris, and clutter.

– Inspect aerial lifts before they are used; if any issues are identified, workers must avoid using these lifts until they are repaired or replaced.

– Ensure workers know how to report safety issues; also, encourage workers to be proactive and to notify a superior about any potential safety problems right away.

Along with providing construction worker safety tips, your business can enroll its workers in safety training at regular intervals. This training allows construction workers to stay up to date about safety processes, protocols, and techniques. At the same time, safety training enables your business to comply with OSHA requirements and ensure your employees know which PPE to use at work.

Do You Need a Hard Hat for Work?

There’s one type of job where wearing a hard hat is a must: operating an aerial lift. But wearing a hard hat is only one part of aerial lift safety. Training and certification are critical for preventing injuries to lift workers in the air and on the ground.

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Sign Up for Aerial Lift Safety Training from CertifyMeOnline.net

If you’re unsure whether your workers need hard hats or want additional insights into on-the-job safety, CertifyMeOnline.net can help. We offer an extensive training program that teaches workers how to use aerial lifts, explains which PPE workers need to use, and more. To receive additional information about our aerial lift safety training program or to sign up for one of our classes, please contact us online or call us today at (602) 277-0615.

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