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December 19, 2023
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration this month recommended safety helmets be used by construction workers. OSHA said hard hats offer limited protection to the top of the head and easily come off during slips, trips or falls. The design also traps heat, which can lead to worker discomfort.
The OSHA recommendation follows a Bureau of Labor Statistics report that shows that head injuries accounted for nearly 6% of nonfatal job-related injuries in 2020.
For decades, traditional hard hats have protected construction workers' heads. Made of rigid materials like high-density polyethylene, hard hats provide a basic level of protection. However, as technology and scientific understanding of head injuries have advanced, helmets have been found to provide enhanced safety and reduced risk of severe head trauma, OSHA said.
Helmets offer “superior protection” for construction workers, according to the American Society of Concrete Contractors. Traumatic brain injuries are responsible for 25% of all construction fatalities and many life-altering injuries, the group said, and “helmets can help the construction industry reduce these fatalities and injuries.”
Construction workers wear helmets across Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. But U.S. ANSI standards do not include such requirements, according to Hard Hats to Helmets, a construction industry organization.
Safety helmet features
Hard hats are made of hard plastics, but safety helmets incorporate a combination of materials, including lightweight composites, fiberglass and advanced thermoplastics, OSHA said. The materials not only enhance impact resistance but also reduce neck strain and improve comfort.
Plus, safety helmets have a chin strap that, when worn properly, maintains the helmet’s position in the event of a trip or fall.
They also may include built-in hearing protection and systems to facilitate clear communication in noisy environments, enabling workers to stay connected and safe, the agency said.
Editorial Director, ConstructioNext, WOC360, IRE360, Informa Markets
Jean Dimeo is an award-winning editor, writer and publication manager who has worked in construction publishing for 30 years. Dimeo was managing editor of Construction Dive, our sister publication about commercial construction, and the editor in chief of Builder, EcoHome and Building Products, all about residential building and remodeling. She also worked as an editor for a Spanish-language construction publication and as a building products expert for consumer magazines including Better Homes & Gardens SIPs.
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