The “Hard Boiled® Hat” owed its name to the manufacturing process using steam. Founded in 1898 in San Francisco, the Bullard company originally sold equipment for miners. At work underground, the mine workers those days wore only soft headgear (bowler hat or derby [US]), similar to a baseball cap, equipped with a narrow brim made of leather or shellac.
E.W. Bullard, the son of the company founder, was interested in improving safety for workers and began developing a helmet that could protect them from falling objects. This development was based on the “doughboy”, a helmet that Bullard himself had worn as a soldier in World War I. Nowadays, protective helmets are no longer only worn for military purposes, but also to protect workers.
75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge – the first construction site with hard hats
The chief engineer on the Golden Gate Bridge, Joseph B. Strauss, shared a vision with E.W. Bullard that the workplace should be a safer environment for workers. After all, approximately 887,000 tonnes of steel and 600,000 rivets were used in constructing what was then the world’s longest suspension bridge, with a lot of work taking place at a great height. One problem they faced was falling rivets, which could cause serious injury. This prompted Bullard to transform the mining helmet into a durable industrial hard hat. During construction of the Golden Gate Bridge in the 1930s, the site became the first ever designated “Hard Hat Area”.
Safety helmets belong to the personal protective equipment (PPE) of every worker
Safety helmets have now become a matter of course on every building site. In the laboratories at ENHA, a German safety helmet manufacturer based in the Saarland, the design of safety functions is constantly being refined even further.
Development engineers are currently working on a helmet with integrated crash-box. The helmets have a double shell and elements between the shells, which can be practically destroyed in the event of impact. Conventional helmets usually only have an increased shell thickness of up to 5 – 6 mm in the head covering area. “In contrast, the function of the crash-box is similar to that of a crumple zone in a vehicle chassis,” explains Joe Engelhard, Managing Director and Development Manager at EHNA. “The head covering of the helmet consists of two shells with cylinders and pins in between, which screw together in the event of an impact, thereby decimating the effects of energy exposure on the head of the wearer,” says Engelhard, describing this technology, which is being employed here for the first time in the world. As much of the impact force as possible is absorbed and not transferred unhindered to the interior lining, as is the case with conventional helmets. This minimises injury to the greatest possible extent.
Highly efficient safety features in the interior
Furthermore, a new helmet shell has been developed with the main task of reducing impact energy, while keeping weight to a minimum. As with motor vehicles, the objective is not for the bodywork to remain undamaged after an accident or impact, rather that the helmet should deform – or even be destroyed – as intended. The greater the extent to which this happens, the lower the force on the head of the wearer.
In addition, a special suspension mechanism (DeFormaTec™) has been developed, which further reduces the impact energy in the event of a heavier impact on the helmet. This special piece of interior equipment represents a highly efficient safety feature that has been proven in many comparative tests.
Careful inspection of safety helmets
Many accidents can be avoided simply with the wearing of helmets. According to accident statistics for the construction industry from 2011 (AUVA – [German] General Accident Insurance Association), the most frequent head injuries are wounds and superficial injuries (75%), with fractures in second place. In particular, small objects falling from a great height represent a significant risk that can be counteracted effectively with a safety helmet.
In Europe, safety helmets are tested in accordance with DIN EN 397. Safety helmets belong to the personal protective equipment (PPE) of every worker and must be provided by the employer. They are indispensable in the construction, trade and industrial sectors, and protect against falling, dropping, thrown out, swinging and flying objects, which can be very dangerous.