Contractors Continue Safety Transition from Hard Hats to Helmets
By KERRY SMITH, St. Louis Construction News and Review Magazine
Although OSHA regulations do not yet mandate it, a growing number of commercial contractors are making the transition from hard hats to helmets as an investment in heightened jobsite safety.
McCarthyHoldings,Inc. is preparing to complete the transition from standard hard hats to helmets for all trade partners on the firm’s construction sites. This comes as an extension to McCarthy’s 2022 transition to helmets for its more than 6,000 salaried and craft employees. The contractor’s proactive decision is expected to significantly reduce the impact and lessen the frequency of future injuries and accidents. On July 1, McCarthy will begin requiring all trade partners to wear helmets.
Clayco’s subsidiary, Concrete Strategies, is continuing a pilot effort it began in the spring of 2021 is doing a pilot to replace hard hats with helmets in the field.
Trade associations are also following suit. The American Society of Concrete Contractors – the nation’s nonprofit association for cast-in-place concrete contractors – says momentum is gaining nationally to replace traditional hard hats with helmets.
From a cost standpoint, the expenditure is approximately 10 times more. Contractor helmets range from $100 to $125 apiece, compared with hard hats which cost $10 to $15 each. But the long-term safety benefits are clear, according to OSHA’s Scott Ketcham, who oversees the agency’s Directorate of Construction.
“Helmets attach more closely to the head with built-in chin straps and have little to no brim around the edge,” Ketcham said. “There is protective padding inside the helmet as well. Hard hats protect against injury from falling objects, but helmets also protect against blows from the side. They are more likely to remain in place during falls, trips and slips.”
Over time, the hard hat’s polyethylene shells are subject to weakening from substances such as paints, paint thinners and some cleaning agents, he added. While hard hats are tested to withstand a force of 1,000 pounds – equivalent to an eight-pound ball dropped from a height of five feet onto the top of the hard hat – construction safety helmets protect against greater impact from above and from the side, according to OSHA.
Helmets also offer workers increased protection from electrocution and noise.
In 2017, Clark Construction became one of the first contractors to require employees to wear helmets instead of hard hats. An increase in falls and traumatic brain injuries prompted the company to make the switch.