Construction sites are dangerous places, and they will continue to be dangerous places until we do something to make them safer.
In 2020, the incidence rate for nonfatal falls, slips or trips was higher for construction laborers (52.5 cases per 10,000 full-time workers) compared to all workers (22.9 cases), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). It’s no surprise; there are construction jobsite risks everywhere, from falling objects to infectious diseases to chemical hazards.
To protect themselves, industrial tradespeople have worn traditional hard hats, the safety norm for more than a century. Conventional hard hats are designed primarily to protect the head from falling objects. However, there are many other ways that workers can seriously injure their heads on a construction site, including falls, slips and trips. Construction workers, therefore, need more protection than a traditional hard hat can provide.
A Change of Hats
Falls represent the third deadliest risk to construction personnel. In 2020, There were 1,008 documented fatal falls throughout the construction industry in the United States, about 35% of all construction accidents, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). These data points are not surprising, considering that more than half of the construction industry works on scaffolds, dramatically increasing the risk of falls from heights and related traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).
In response, the industry is beginning to rethink head protection. In lieu of the antiquated (Type I) hard hat, more plant operators, construction safety officers and others are considering the new Type II safety helmet for its superior safety as part of the broader personal protective equipment (PPE) product mix.
These ANSI-certified Type II safety helmets provide 360-degree head protection. Type II safety helmets integrate better shock-absorbing technology and feature front, side and rear impact protection. They also have chin straps and other technologies to keep the helmet on the head while offering better protection in the event of an accident. Some models even feature a rotational technology that reduces force to the brain from oblique or angled strikes.
These helmets typically require a greater up-front investment compared to a traditional hard hat but, in return, workers enjoy a significantly safer and usually more comfortable experience. That’s because type II safety helmets are designed to improve wearability. Most importantly, they are considerably more effective at protecting tradespeople from severe injury or even death.
Here are some additional safety features that Type II helmets can offer:
Impact Protection — Impact protection technology, such as welded-tube polymers developed by Koroyd, mean that helmets crumple instantly on impact. This allows the helmet to absorb maximum force, thereby protecting the skull and brain from both direct and angled impacts in the process.
Angled impacts are more likely to cause rotational shifts of the brain in the skull, which can lead to more severe injury. Therefore, reducing the impact of angled and oblique impacts, in particular, can help reduce the risk of a life-changing or life-threatening injury.
Identification Technology — If a workplace incident does occur, some helmets include an integrated chip based on near-field communication (NFC) technology that stores emergency contacts and critical medical information for first responders to access. twICEme, for example, is a technology that utilizes NFC to enable first responders to scan the data from the top of the helmet to an app on their mobile device.
With traditional hardhats, workers often will include vital health information on a piece of paper affixed inside the hardhat. For certain head and neck injuries, this method can be problematic, as medical personnel may not want to remove the helmet initially to avoid further injury. This identification technology ensures critical data can be communicated quickly, even when the helmet cannot safely be removed.
Modular Rear Brims — Helmets may feature a slight rear brim designed for rain deflection or the traditional brim form factor to help protect against outdoor conditions. Depending on the jobsite and conditions, some Type II helmets enable the wearer to remove and replace brim components to further improve comfort and utility.
Four-Point Chin Strap Systems — Buckle enclosures with an adjustable nylon four-point chin strap are commonly found in action sports helmets, such as biking and rock climbing. When added to an industrial safety helmet, they offer construction workers maximum adjustability and easy one-handed use with gloves. The chin straps also keep the helmet in place versus the traditional strapless hardhat.
A Safer Workplace
Falls, trips and slips represent some of the leading causes of serious injury and death for construction workers, but they are preventable.
Organizations can better protect their workers by following OSHA’s recommendations, including its recent “Fall Protection Campaign.” Furthermore, employers can better protect the workforce through investments in safer PPE, including Type II safety helmets.
According to the BLS, most of these head injuries resulting from a slip, trip or fall happen from heights of 6 feet or less. This is one of the main reasons why many commercial general contractors are mandating Type II safety helmets with chin straps, along with other certifications and requirements, to help ensure compliance with many high-profile jobsites.
Here are some of the other ways Type II helmets can keep workers safe on the job:
- Type II safety helmets offer physical and material advantages compared to traditional hard hats. They offer other safety benefits, including lower PPE turnover. Type II safety helmet lifetimes also typically last longer thanks to more thoughtful, ruggedized designs.
- Type II helmets can result in an overall lower risk of workplace injury thanks to front, side and rear impact safety and chin straps that help protect the head during falls; traditional Type I hard hats are only designed to protect the top of the head from falling objects.
- Fewer injuries equate to fewer workers' compensation claims.
- A reduction in injuries can also help lower liability insurance costs.
- Overall risk reduction for the workplace.
- Stronger safety culture and an environment of caring.
- Increased productivity and potentially more earnings for workers, who can spend more time on the jobsite and less time recovering from injuries.
At the end of the day, the construction industry is built by individuals who apply their skills, strengths and talents to complete the project.
Although construction is physical work, the most essential asset for anyone working on a jobsite remains their brain—the most complex and important tool of all. Organizations, and workers themselves, are realizing the need to protect this most precious asset as much as possible for the sake of the build and everyone’s livelihood and well-being.
Type II safety helmets are becoming the new safety standard. As forward-looking organizations voluntarily transition, they can remain confident that the investment is worth the cost from a strict dollars-and-cents view beyond the twin goal of creating a safety-first culture.
Ryan Barnes is founder and CEO of Studson, a U.S.-based industrial Type II safety helmet maker. Since its founding in 2020, Studson aims to consistently deliver the most innovative industrial head protection equipment to save lives—and livelihoods. Barnes brings more than 20 years of experience from the sports, outdoor and consumer product goods markets across sales, marketing, product management and business development roles to revolutionize the industrial helmet safety market.