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Images of construction workers donning hard hats are an icon of the industry. Whether workers are on the ground or on top of a skyscraper, everyone on site must wear a hard hat. However, can the hard hat receive a bit of a new design? Increasingly, safety helmets are replacing hard hats. Will they eventually take over in this industry?
The History of the Hard Hat
Laborers have worn hard hats for over a century. Shipbuilders were the first to cover their heads with this protective gear to protect them from objects falling from ships. Hard hats have been made of steel, leather, aluminum, plastic, fiberglass, and steamed canvas with glue. The goal of a safety helmet has always been to prevent head injuries.
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Today’s headgear is made of polyethylene and may include face shields, ventilation, earmuffs, perspiration liners, visors, radios, lights, or walkie-talkies for communication. As they continually evolve, there are more options available for safety helmets.
The Shift to Safety Helmets
Safety helmets look like something a rescue worker or someone engaging in outdoor sports may wear. They attach closer to the head, have little to no brim, and feature a built-in chin strap. The head profile is notably smaller.
These helmets contain additional safety elements, which is why athletes engaging in dangerous sports or rescue workers found in hazardous conditions tend to wear them. Inside is protective padding accompanied by chin straps to ensure it is securely attached to the head.
When it comes to the differences and similarities between a hard hat vs a safety helmet, they are as follows:
- Both hard hats and safety helmets can be worn for classes E (electrical), G (general), and C (conductive).
- Both can be worn for protection against Type I and Type II levels of impact.
- They both provide an adjustable chin strap.
- Safety helmets provide coverage to the back of the head.
- Safety helmets have a pre-assembled six-point suspension system.
- There is front-to-back ventilation with a safety helmet.
- Safety helmets have magnetic accessories.
Safety Helmets Are Durable
If you are a construction worker, these helmets will protect you against falling objects and type II helmets can provide increased side and back of the head protection against impacts. The type II helmets plus the hard hats minimize lateral head impacts. This occurs whether you take a hit off-center, from the top or side of your head. They were engineered to protect against impact.
Chin straps provide additional safety in the event of a trip, slip, or fall. They keep the head protection in place.
Accessories and Options
Other things that make these helmets safe are ear protection, attachable visors, and Hi-Viz material for working in the dark.
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OSHA regulations state the requirement of ANSI-compliant headgear. Employers must provide adequate head protection that meets or exceeds the industry standard (ANSI Z89.1).
Class and Type
Each type of head protection is assigned a class and type. Type is the level of protection from impact. Class is the different protection levels against electricity.
- ANSI Type I helmets reduce force from impacts when delivered to the top of the
- ANSI Type II helmets reduce force resulting from hits to the top of the head as well as the sides.
The three protection classes are:
- Class E (Electrical) which can withstand up to 20,000 volts.
- Class G (General) protects up to 2,200 volts.
- Class C (Conductive) does not protect against electrical currents.
For construction workers, a type one, class C helmet is the standard worn by those not exposed to any electrical hazards. The standard safety helmet is categorized as class C.
What Are the Pros and Cons?
Safety helmets last for ten years, have better safety measures, protect the head from side impacts, and won’t easily fall off. The drawback of a safety helmet is the price. They are quite expensive, costing between $100 and $150.
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In some industries, shifting from a hard hat to a safety helmet is challenging. They also tend to feel heavier when worn depending on which model is selected.
Hurdles to Their Incorporation in the Industry
With the positive feedback on this safety gear, one may assume they will eventually take over hard hats. However, this may not be so. A potential barrier is the cost. They are significantly more expensive than a hard hat. Misplaced or lost hard hats are easy to replace from a cost perspective.
The benefit, though, is that a safety helmet lasts longer. Fewer will need to be purchased, generating a more cost-effective return in the long run.
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Another barrier is the person’s preference. Hard hats have been a long-time symbol of being a construction worker. Safety helmets have a different look from the traditional hard hat design and have a different feel when worn. Some feel uncomfortable wearing a sleeker design, making it difficult to shift many company cultures.
Some workers may switch to safety helmets, while others prefer hard hats, depending on the type of work they are doing. Safety helmets may be required if the person is working at heights or where there is an increased fall risk. Hard hats may continue to be worn by people at ground level, like flaggers, concrete finishers, drivers, and electricians.
Implementing safety helmets may be beneficial to many workers since it prevents injuries to the side of the head. They do have amazing features, but it may not be enough to beat out what the hard hat offers at a much lower price. The ultimate choice may end up depending on the requirements of the job.
However, companies cannot ignore the overall cost savings over time. If incorporated into the job environment, the fact that they are durable may help them win out in the end. Yet, there is always the risk of a safety helmet needing to be replaced or getting lost. The individual choice will come down to what benefits the company overall.