One of the oldest helmets ever discovered was found in Grave Circle B, just outside the Bronze Age citadel of Mycenae, and dates to around the 17th Century BCE. It’s known as a Boar’s Tusk Helmet and it was created using slivers of ivory attached to a leather cap and padded with felt. It would have provided less protection than a metal helmet, obviously, but it was better than nothing out on the battlefield. Scholars estimate that because it would have taken forty to fifty boars to produce just one helmet, perhaps it was more of a status symbol or means of identification than a serious piece of personal protective equipment.
Over time, helmets progressed from the bronze Corinthian helmets of the ancient Greeks to the steel Frog-Mouth helms of 15th Century Germanic knights. What most helmets have in common is that, prior to the 1900s, they were primarily accoutrements of warriors. The turn of the century began to see limited use of home-made helmets among shipping workers. Then, Edward Dickinson Bullard created the first mining helmet in 1919. At the same time, the United States Navy had commissioned Bullard to create a protective cap for their shipyard workers. A decade later, the 1930s brought us the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge, and with them, two of the first industrial head protection programs in the world.
At the Hoover Dam, project contractor Six Companies Inc. mandated the use of hard hats by its workers in 1931. Two years later, Joseph Strauss, chief engineer of the Golden Gate instituted the first documented instance of a Hard Hat Area for workers on the bridge. Strauss was annoyed by the daredevil antics of workers goofing off on construction sites and deeply troubled by the statistic that for every million dollars spent on a project, you could expect at least one fatality. He decided he could buck that trend. Failure to use hard hats and safety lines, as well as showboating out on the ends of cables would result in a worker’s termination. Strauss figured it was more important for a worker to lose a job than to lose a life.
Since the 1930s, both the materials making up hard hats and the programs encouraging their use have continued to evolve. In the same way we learned not to create hard hats out of highly conductive aluminum, we've learned there are much better ways to implement a safety program at your company than simply firing everyone who doesn’t play ball.
- Is your company a graveyard for abandoned projects and initiatives? You’re going to have to find ways to show that worker safety isn’t going to be left behind with the next big management shakeup. Workers are much more likely to adopt a new policy if they feel the company is committed to this new course of action.
- Is your company’s safety program being adequately communicated to line-level staff? How do you know? Do you have a workflow in place to make sure messages from the executive penthouse reach the ground floor? Do all your employees speak English or work in America? If not, how are you ensuring that your message reaches them in a way they can understand?
- Does the organization and administration of your company show a consistency with the safety program you’re trying to implement? If upper management is saying one thing about safe behavior but mid-level supervisors are making unreasonable demands that force workers to rush, to be imprecise, or to ignore danger signs, workers will notice policy doesn’t match practice.
- Do your workers feel included in the decision-making process that accompanies their safety programs? Are you soliciting feedback from the boots on the ground as to whether a program is effective or coherent? When workers feel a sense of ownership over company direction, they are much more likely to participate gladly in the execution of those directives.
- Are your workers being recognized when they do follow safety protocol? What are you doing to make their efforts feel noticed and appreciated? When’s the last time you thanked your workers for working hard to get everyone home safe at the end of the shift? We focus so much on accountability – “Management is watching you…” – when we should be spending equal time on recognition – “Management notices your contribution and appreciates you.”
These are just a few advances in safety program implementation made in the 80s since Joseph Strauss was handing out pink slips to the naked-headed and the foolhardy on his job site. ORR Safety came on the scene in 1948, so we’ve been keeping up with these breakthroughs for over 68 years now. If you need a veteran guide or just a second set of eyes, ORR’s safety experts would be happy to come to your plant, factory, or job site and share the fruits of six decades working arm in arm with workers all over the United States. While we’re a proud distributor of safety products, we know that a hard hat is only as strong as the program empowering your workers to wear it.