The Daily Courier Logo
Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
2:07 PM Thu, Sept. 20th

Ask the Contractor: A history of the hat that protects workers

Hard hats were once made from leather or from boiled canvas layered with resin. Today hard hats are made from high-density polyethylene and regulated by the U.S. government. (Courtesy YCCA)

Hard hats were once made from leather or from boiled canvas layered with resin. Today hard hats are made from high-density polyethylene and regulated by the U.S. government. (Courtesy YCCA)

The thermoplastic hard hat has become a symbol of construction and, over the years, has become a safety requirement on construction job sites.

Construction of the Hoover Dam, which began in 1931, was the first project in which construction workers were required to wear hard hats. Later, in 1933, the construction site of the Golden Gate Bridge became America’s first “Hard Hat Area.”

Today, millions of workers wear hard hats. When worn properly, a hard hat can provide lifesaving protection. A hard hat protects against damage from falling objects, whether sharp or blunt.

Nowadays, hard hats are made of a strong, high-density polyethylene. Suspension inside the hat secures the hat to the head and provides protective spacing of approximately 1.25 inches between the hat and the wearer’s head, cushioning any blow that, otherwise, might impact the head.

The hard hat worn today by wo many workers originated with Edward Bullard, a WWI veteran. He brought a steel helmet home after the war. This metal headgear was the inspiration to revolutionize industrial safety. Bullard’s father worked in the industrial safety business for 20 years and sold protective hats, but they were made of leather.

In 1919, Bullard expanded his father’s work in head protection, patenting a “hard-boiled” hat. It was created through steaming canvas with resin and gluing several layers together, providing a hard, molded shape. That same year, the US Navy commissioned Bullard to create a shipyard protective cap. Its use in Navy shipyards expanded the use of hard hats elsewhere.

Bullard subsequently developed an internal suspension, providing a more protective hat.

By 1938 aluminum had become a standard material for hard hats, except for the hats used by electrical workers.

In the 1940s, fiberglass became the popular material of hard hats. A decade later, thermoplastics became the standard material for hard hat construction because it is easy to mold and shape with applied heat.

In 1997, the American National Standards Institute revised its performance standards for hard hats. Now a type-one hard hat is required to provide protection from the impact of vertically falling objects that could land on the top of the head. A type-two hard hat must protect the wearer from vertical and horizontal threats.

There are also standards for hard hats that protect the wearer from electrical current. Some of the most recent improvements in hard hats include attachments for radios, walkie-talkies, pagers and cameras. Today hard hats are made from high-density polyethylene, and a type two hard hat is required to have a foam inner liner of expanded polystyrene.

A hard hat is required on most construction projects and many sites use the color to identify workers. Typically, a white hat is worn by managers and engineers and visitors to the job site while other colors are used to identify the various trades. Most companies that enforce a color code follow an informal standard for their hard hats. Yellow hats are commonly worn by general laborers. Blue is common among electrical workers. Green is sometimes worn by new or probationary employees

More than six million hard hats are sold each year. While the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires use of protective head gear -- Employees working in areas where there is a possible danger of head injury from impact, or from falling or flying objects, or from electrical shock and burns, shall be protected by protective helmets. – OSHA does not indicate any expiration date for hard hats. Even so, however, hard hats become less effective over time. Sun can damage the plastic material, and sweat, liquids and other substances can cause a hard hat to deteriorate over time.

Today, the hard hat is a comfortable and essential part of construction workers’ attire on jobsites. The pioneers of the hard hat industry deserve thanks for helping to improve the safety of the construction industry.

Tune in to YCCA’s Hammer Time every Saturday and Sunday at 7 a.mm, on KQNA 1130 am, 99.9 fm, 95.5 fm or the web kqna.com. Listen to Griffis talk about the construction industry and learn about local community partners and much more.