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The Evolution of the Hard Hat

Hard hats have saved countless lives over the past 100 years. Since the “Hard Boiled®” hat was introduced in 1919, head protection has undergone numerous evolutions. Scientific discoveries and advancements in design are making this simple device even more effective.

Preventing Traumatic Brain Injuries

Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) caused 7,300 occupational fatalities between 2003 and 2008. Falls caused 29% of these fatalities. These fatalities were most common in transportation, agriculture, forestry, fishing, and construction workers. In fact, construction workers represented 2,210 fatalities from TBI during this period.

Technological Advances Improve Effectiveness

Hard hats were first constructed from steamed canvas, leather brims, and black paint. Held together by glue and stitching, the design didn’t change much until the 1930’s. As the Golden Gate Bridge was erected, engineers adapted the design to provide greater protection for bridge workers. 

In the late 1930’s, hard hat design incorporated aluminum which was both lightweight and durable. Later, designs also incorporated three-ribbed, heat resistant fiberglass, thermoplastics, and non-slip ratchet suspension to ensure a tight fit on any head.

Today’s hard hats are built using polyethylene plastics. This makes them lightweight, highly durable, and non-conductive. This helps protect workers from falling objects, falls from height, and from contact with electricity. Many designs also feature upgraded suspension systems which create additional cushioning on impact. There are also lock-snaps and easily adjustable straps that ensure a proper fit and help keep the helmet in place when a worker falls or is struck by an object.

The Future of Hard Hats

Hard hats are staple safety devices on construction sites, farms, warehouses, fishing boats, and numerous industrial sites. As technology advances, the evolution of the hard hat will continue. Future designs will focus on increasing vertical and lateral shock absorption, and greater insulation for enhanced protection against electrical contact. 

These designs will also feature new configurations of expanded polystyrene and expanded polypropylene as engineers develop helmets designed to react more effectively to the shock of impact. 

However, one thing won’t change. Helmets will only provide protection to those who wear them. TBI-related workers’ compensation claims are alarmingly high. Only when every worker wears the appropriate hard hat for the jobs they perform will the rates of TBI in the workplace begin to fall. 

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