From Hard Hats to Impact-Resistant Helmets: Addressing Traumatic Brain Injury Prevention

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Originally Published by: Finance & Commerce — February 12, 2024
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Appleton-based Boldt recently switched from the iconic hard hat to new impact-resistant helmets for its workers to address traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) in the construction industry.

Boldt safety professionals talked with manufacturers and workers in different climates such as northern Minnesota, Oklahoma and southern California to gather feedback for a new construction helmet design. (Submitted Photo: Graham Images)

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths related to brain injuries made up 25% of construction fatalities from 2003 to 2010. Construction has the greatest number of both fatal and nonfatal work-related TBIs in the U.S., federal officials added.

The project started in 2021, when Boldt safety professionals Scott Frazer, Kristin Clements and other team members talked to manufacturers and gathered feedback from craft workers to find a new design. They talked to workers in different climates such as northern Minnesota, Oklahoma and southern California in the feedback stage.

After rolling out new helmets in 2022, Frazer said the company wants to extend its knowledge to interested partners who want to help increase safety in the industry.

“When you suffer a TBI, that affects your life outside of work. That affects your relationship with your family and friends. For us, it wasn’t just about the impact it could have on a worker at work, but more about making sure folks can come to work safely and go home and enjoy their life,” he added.

Boldt decided on a Milwaukee Tools safety helmet and Jackson Safety for helmet accessories such as welding attachments, Clements explained. The company’s criteria were based first on safety through the American National Standards Institute and on feedback from craft workers on weight, fit, features and more.

“Not all helmets are created equal,” Clements explained, noting a half inch or quarter inch made a difference for fitting workers’ heads. Feedback from the field from hot regions also impacted Boldt’s decisions, she added.

A hard hat dissipates potential damage by spreading out the force with a harness system, like how a seat belt functions, Frazer explained. A helmet has integrated foam on the top, back, front and sides and a chin strap to keep it from falling off, Clements noted.

One of the biggest challenges was introducing new technology while construction is rooted in tradition.

Hard hats have a lot of emotional value for workers who might wear them as a badge of honor and individuality, Kristin said. Though the change is needed, company management didn’t want craft workers to feel like their work was being dictated, Frazer added.

“If a company is going to do something like this, it’s really important from a management standpoint to share with your craft employees why it is you’re putting them in this new gear,” Frazer added.

Craft workers on the other side shared praise for the switch as well.

“The Boldt safety team worked to find the best fit for hot work accessories with the resources that were available to them because there weren’t a lot of options when we made the switch. I know getting everyone on the same page from hard hats to helmets was not easy, and anytime I called with a question or problem, they got on it right away,” said Andrew Olson, a journeyman ironworker and company foreman.

Boldt officials said they wanted to share what they’ve learned with those who are interested.

“We feel comfortable that we didn’t just throw something out there and say, ‘Figure it out.’ We have solutions, we found the best tools and it’s evolved to the point now where we feel comfortable saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got it figured out, let’s all do this now,’” Clements said.