Head protection

Trends in ... head protection

Putting on a hard hat or safety helmet before starting work on a jobsite seems like it should be second nature to workers, but “head injuries continue to be one of the most frequent injuries on the job,” said Zach Richman, group product manager of personal protective equipment at Milwaukee Tool. “Understanding which head protection to use based on your application is essential to proper protection.”

Along with Richman, Safety+Health talked with Rudy Rutemiller, eastern regional sales manager for Petzl, about what’s new in the head protection industry, what they’re hearing from customers, and what they wish employers and workers better understood about using head protection.

What do you wish workers better 
understood about head protection?

Richman: Head protection that is approved by the American National Standards Institute and the International Safety Equipment Association is compliant with OSHA regulations. Head protection classification is referred to by “type” and “class,” and PPE manufacturers are producing helmets in a variety of configurations to meet the various hazards on construction sites. ANSI Type 1 reduces the force of impact resulting from a blow to only the top of the head. ANSI Type 2 reduces the force of lateral impact resulting from a blow that may be received off center, from the side or to the top of the head. The class refers to the various levels of protection from electricity: Class E (electrical) is proof tested for 20,000 volts, Class G (general) is tested for 2,200 volts and Class C (conductive) does not offer electrical protection.

Rutemiller: The education needs to come from learning that helmets with chin straps are not a new phenomenon. They’ve been used in industries such as rope access and arboriculture for decades. There are many brands and models on the market that can be more comfortable and breathable than a standard hard hat, while also increasing worker safety by staying on the head, therefore reducing traumatic brain injuries and insurance payouts. 

What are some recent innovations in head protection?

Richman: Construction workers are moving away from traditional hard hats to safety helmets. Most hard hats offer only top-of-head protection, while an ANSI/ISEA Type 2 safety helmet can provide both top and side protection. Some PPE manufacturers are not only looking at providing additional protection to their safety helmets, but are also exploring other ways to innovate. These helmets may include comfortable padded suspension with an adjustable swinging ratchet for quick adjustment or comfortable, adjustable chin straps. Other features may include antimicrobial sweatbands and helmet liners that prevent odor and bacteria buildup and can be removed to be machine washed. This design innovation means that crews do not need to make trade-offs between safety and comfort.

Rutemiller: Helmets with chin straps have been around for well over a decade. However, the latest innovations are with accessories with easy attachment to the helmet, making a full head protection system. Those accessories include hearing and eye protection, hi-vis stickers for increased visibility, and name tag holders for quick identification. 

What concerns or questions are customers coming to you with about head protection, and what advice do you provide?

Richman: One of the most significant drawbacks of safety helmets is the cost. Traditional hard hats can cost as little as $15, whereas safety helmets can cost upwards of $100, depending on model and features. Although initially more expensive, helmets could ultimately create a safer workplace for users, depending on the hazards identified on the jobsite. For jobsites where helmets are mandated, this could result in reduced costs for insurance coverage and, with reduced insurance rates, contractors could bid more aggressively when vying for a contract.

Rutemiller: All major manufacturers meet the necessary standards nowadays, so the concerns are around customization perspective and lead time regarding back orders. Some advice is that it’s worth waiting a few months to get the right product for you, rather than rushing to buy whatever is currently available just to check the box.

Compiled with the assistance of the International Safety Equipment Association

Coming next month:

  • Fall protection
  • Safety tools/tethers and knives

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