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The Evolution of the Hard Hat

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In 1919, when Edward W. Bullard had simply returned to the United States after serving in the cavalry in France, he noticed skyscrapers going up all throughout the nation, and dams and bridges have been rising ever bigger.

These tasks introduced new life to cities after World War I, however additionally they offered new risks for the development employees who positioned girders, poured concrete and pounded nails.

Mr. Bullard, whose father had a enterprise making carbide lamps and different provides for miners, had an thought: What if the firm constructed a helmet for miners and different laborers, modeled on the steel helmet he and the different squaddies often called doughboys had worn abroad?

The Bullards cobbled one collectively from canvas, leather-based and shellac. That was the start of the laborious hat, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this yr.

Hard hats are actually so ubiquitous that they usually go unnoticed. They are sometimes bedecked with union stickers and American flags, perched on the heads of women and men ambling to work, lunch coolers in hand. They are dependable props for V.I.P.s at ribbon cuttings, and in the crowds at political rallies.

The security helmets, together with gasoline masks and umbrellas, have taken a symbolic function this summer time in Hong Kong, the place demonstrators have been wearing them at rallies to protest the affect of China’s authorities in the semiautonomous area.

They’ve additionally grow to be emblems of authority, revealing a lot about their homeowners. A shiny new laborious hat can recommend a neophyte. But a well-worn one bespeaks seniority as simply as a carpenter’s broken-in software belt or a logger’s weathered however well-oiled boots. Even the coloration can denote standing. A white laborious hat usually signifies a supervisor, an engineer or a quality-assurance agent. And some workplaces require one coloration for workers, one other for contractors and yet one more for apprentices.

Bullard nonetheless makes thousands and thousands of laborious hats every year for tens of 1000’s of prospects, the firm’s chief government, Wells Bullard, stated. Now in its fifth era of household possession, the firm has greater than 300 staff producing industrial security tools, primarily at its headquarters in Cynthiana, Ky.

“What we’re really proud of is the way that my great-grandfather solved problems, back in 1919, by watching and listening to workers,” Ms. Bullard stated. “That’s still how we approach it today.”

Bullard’s first laborious hat was referred to as the Hard Boiled hat. It was made of steamed canvas and leather-based (steel was too costly), was lined with black paint and featured a suspension system. The firm obtained an enormous enhance in the 1930s when engineers constructing the Golden Gate Bridge required employees to put on Bullard laborious hats, which have been upgraded to guard in opposition to falling rivets. Standard laborious hat design has developed over the years, from canvas to steel to fiberglass and, ultimately, to plastic.

Hard hat producers obtained their greatest elevate in 1970, when Congress handed the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which required that tough hats be used on many job websites.

As the business has grown, it has grow to be crowded. Honeywell, Kask, MSA Safety and 3M are amongst Bullard’s many opponents.

Over the years, their reputation surged past security requirement to standing image, stated Beth Rosenberg, an affiliate professor at Tufts University School of Medicine.

During Boston’s Big Dig development challenge, she puzzled why development employees weren’t carrying respirators and listening to safety, despite the fact that almost everybody on the $24 billion challenge wore a tough hat. Compliance was so excessive that even these not required to put on laborious hats donned them. This prompted her and a colleague to analysis the social historical past of laborious hats for a 2010 paper.

Dr. Rosenberg stated laborious hats had grow to be related to masculinity and patriotism. “There was a confluence of social factors that made hard hats cool that has not happened with hearing protection or respirators,” she stated.

The time period “hard hats” even turned shorthand for working individuals with a conservative patriotism, and New York tabloid reporters nonetheless use the time period to indicate development employees.

Over the years, laborious hats have prevented accidents in a variety of workplaces.

William Ross Aiken, a pioneer in TV know-how, recalled the shut name he had whereas working in a shipyard throughout World War II. “I was saved by my hard hat once when some metal fell 60 feet from a gantry crane and hit me on the head,” he stated in a 1996 oral historical past for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. “It made a big dent in my aluminum hat, but it saved my life.”

Others recount comparable lifesaving cases. Didier Bonner-Ganter, an arborist in Maine, doesn’t keep in mind being hit by a tree whereas engaged on a logging crew throughout his school years, however does keep in mind standing in the forest with a sore shoulder, and his laborious hat on the floor subsequent to him, newly cracked. He doesn’t know what would have occurred to him if he had not been carrying a tough hat, however stated, “It certainly would have been worse.”

Scott Storace was a challenge supervisor on a residential high-rise in San Francisco when a employee dropped a steel scaffolding coupler from six flooring up.

“The hard hat did its trick,” he stated. “It’s got that little bit of room between where it sits on your head and where the hard plastic is, and that cushioned the blow.”

Ms. Bullard, the firm chief, stated she heard so much of tales like these. Her firm even has a Turtle Club, whose members have been saved by their laborious hats. Its motto: “Shell on head, you’re not dead.”

She stated her great-grandfather would nonetheless acknowledge the laborious hats the firm produced immediately.

“The technology of the hard hat really hasn’t changed so dramatically in 100 years,” she stated. “There’s a suspension, and there’s a shell.”

But modifications are coming. Ms. Bullard stated her firm’s merchandise have been evolving not solely to guard employees from falling objects, but in addition to guard them when the employees have been the falling objects.

Early subsequent yr, Bullard will introduce a brand new line of laborious hats with foam padding and built-in chin straps, much like climbing helmets, however designed for industrial employees, and with their enter.

“Head protection reinvented,” Ms. Bullard stated. “One hundred years ago, we invented it, and now we’re reinventing it.”

Falls are the No. 1 killer on development websites, stated G. Scott Earnest of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. A 2016 report from the company discovered that greater than 2,200 development employees died from traumatic mind accidents from 2003 to 2010.

Dr. Earnest stated he believed redesigned laborious hats may higher defend falling employees.

“The next generation, the ones that are just starting to be seen on construction sites, are a lot more like a helmet a mountain climber might wear, or a hockey player, or a kid on a bicycle,” he stated. “Anything we can do to provide better protection for construction workers is important, because it’s a very hazardous industry.”


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