Safety & Health

PPE in the Workplace

Construction Safety Helmets vs. Hard Hats: A New Approach

Grainger Editorial Staff

Equipped with adjustable chin straps, ear protection, face shields and other safety features, construction safety helmets are gaining popularity on today’s jobsites.  

Every day at jobsites around the globe, construction workers walk past a “Hard Hat Required” placard—a reminder to don their protective headgear before proceeding into areas where falling debris, low beams or other perils could be lurking around any corner. OSHA rule (29 C.F.R. 1926.100) states that employers must provide head protection equipment (and at no charge to the worker) that meets or exceeds the industry consensus standard ANSI Z89.1 issued 2009.  

What’s the Best Option for Your Workforce?

Historically looked upon as the best form of head protection in such situations, traditional hard hats are now being replaced with construction safety helmets equipped with adjustable chin straps, ear protection, face shields and other safety features. The Type 1 ANSI helmets include front brim safety systems with 6-point ratchet systemsfire and rescue helmets and hard hats that come with mounted ear muffs.

In most cases, companies are equipping workers with safety helmets typically associated with sports like mountain climbing and biking, and with the assumption that these helmets provide better side impact protection than hard hats—and won’t fall off if workers trip or fall.

“For 40-plus years the design of construction hard hats hasn’t changed much—a brimmed shell attached to a suspended, adjustable headband,” according to Bloomberg BNA. “But that’s changing as designs, first used in mountain climbing and other sports helmets, are adapted for construction workers.”

This trend is being driven by the idea that helmets provide better side impact protection than traditional hard hats and won’t tumble away if a worker falls. “If you’re working on a ladder and fall, your head snaps backwards then your hard hat falls off,” Jason Timmerman, safety director for Skanska USA Commercial Development, told Bloomberg BNA.   

A Win-Win-Win for Everyone Involved

Improving upon head protection is a benefit to many different parties surrounding the industry, Construction Junkie reports. In fact, it’s a win-win-win for:

  • The worker, who benefits from less chance of injury
  • The company, which benefits from less lost time and worker’s compensation payouts
  • Insurance companies, which benefit from lower risk and less claims.

In the U.S., large contractors like Skanska, Clark Construction and Balfour Beatty have launched test programs involving safety helmets on job sites. Along with being strapped to a worker’s head, safety helmets boast some other major benefits, chief of which is the ability to functionally accessorize.

“For example, many of the helmets are Hi-Viz, and are shaped to allow for over the ear hearing protection with multiple options for safety visors of various sizes,” Construction Junkie notes, adding that the drawback (particularly for smaller contractors), is the safety helmets’ initial price (versus traditional hard hats, which can cost as little as $15) that “can fetch anywhere from $100-$150. The KASK helmets do have a shelf life of 10 years, whereas standard hard hats typically have a 5-year shelf life.”

Keeping Them Safe from Harm

As hard hats continue to look and function more like rescue gear, products from manufacturers like PETZL, which makes an ANSI Z89.1-2009 Type I Class E helmet with 6-point webbing suspension, could gain a larger presence on the construction jobsite. Interested in protecting workers from head impacts, while also providing built-in chinstraps, ear protection, face shields, and other components—while meeting OSHA standards—safety managers should explore their options and select the protective headgear that fits best with their workers’ needs.


Safety Helmets Are Replacing Hard Hats on Construction Sites

Several US Construction Companies Are Ditching Hard Hats for Safety Helmets

The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.


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