Industry trends

Hard Hats to Helmets: Advancing Worker Safety with ANSI Type II Innovations


The construction industry has witnessed a transformative shift toward enhancing worker safety, underscored by a significant change adopted by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In December, OSHA announced a move away from traditional hardhats in favor of ANSI-Z89.1-certified Type II safety helmets for employees on site, a practice pioneered by some contractors as early as 2015.

Historically, the hardhat has stood as the primary line of defense against workplace head injuries, protecting against impacts from above since its current form was introduced around 1919. However, Type II helmets offer a comprehensive protective strategy, safeguarding against side, back, and certain front impacts — a capability traditional hardhats lack. The ANSI standard requires Type II helmets to feature anti-concussion technologies to mitigate traumatic brain injuries. While no helmet can guarantee complete prevention of concussions or brain injuries, these enhancements are meticulously engineered to absorb shock and reduce rotational forces during falls

As OSHA has recognized the benefits of Type II helmets and the pressing need for improved head protection, it’s worth noting the construction sector’s alarming statistics shared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Between 2003 and 2010, the indu stry saw 2,210 workers succumb to fatal traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), accounting for 25% of all construction fatalities. This rate — 2.6 per 100,000 full-time workers — represents the highest among all U.S. workplaces.

OSHA’s endorsement, detailed in a Safety and Health Information Bulletin published on November 22, 2023, recommends the use of Type II helmets across various high-risk sectors, including construction and oil and gas, but also extends to specialized work and lower-risk areas involving electrical operations and work from heights.

 The History of Construction Jobsite Safety Helmets

The history of construction jobsite safety helmets dates back over a century, with their inception rooted in the fundamental need to protect workers from head injuries. The original designs were simplistic, often fashioned from leather or steamed canvas, and later, metal materials that provided a basic level of defense against falling objects. With the advancement of technology, traditional helmets transitioned to more durable materials like aluminum and fiberglass. By the mid-20th century, thermoplastics revolutionized helmet production, offering improved impact resistance and electrical insulation, crucial for preventing injuries from both physical impacts and electrical hazards. Safety features in these helmets were initially limited to a rigid outer shell and a simple suspension system inside, designed to absorb and distribute the force of impacts. Though rudimentary by today’s standards, these helmets laid the groundwork for the sophisticated headgear that would follow, each innovation a response to the ever-increasing demands for jobsite safety and protection.

The Emergence of Industry Safety Standards

The emergence of industry safety standards for head protection has been a significant milestone in ensuring the well-being of construction workers. One of the key safety benchmarks is the ANSI-Z89.1 certification, a standard developed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which sets forth rigorous criteria for both the design and testing of safety helmets. The ANSI-Z89.1 certification addresses various types of impacts and penetration hazards, as well as stipulating criteria for the helmet’s ability to resist flaming and electric shocks, among other dangers prevalent on construction sites. Over the years, the development of this certification has led to marked advancements in helmet safety, actively shaping the evolution of material use, durability, and functionality of safety helmets. The importance of ANSI-Z89.1 certification lies in its role as a guarantor of a baseline level of safety that users can expect, ensuring that helmets are not only protective but also reliable and consistent in their performance across various working conditions.

 Advancements in Helmet Design and Technology

Modern safety helmet design has witnessed substantial technological enhancements aimed at maximizing protection and comfort for the wearer. These contemporary models bear little resemblance to their traditional counterparts, which primarily featured a hard outer shell with minimal suspension and no integrated safety systems. Advanced materials such as high-density polyethylene and polycarbonate have replaced older plastics, offering superior impact resistance and durability while maintaining a lighter weight. Modern helmets incorporate adjustable interior harness systems, padded sweatbands, and improved ventilation for wearer comfort. In terms of safety, the latest models integrate features like shock-absorbing liners, improved side impact protection, and systems designed to reduce rotational forces during an angled impact—an advancement over traditional models that only offered protection from top-down impacts. This evolution of design, informed by biomechanical research and material sciences, has profoundly elevated the standard of safety, drastically minimizing the risk of head injuries on jobsites.

ANSI-Z89.1 Certified Type II Safety Helmets

ANSI-Z89.1 Certified Type II safety helmets are the epitome of rigorous safety standards, offering comprehensive protection for construction workers. The ANSI-Z89.1 certification is meticulous in its requirements, setting forth stringent design and testing parameters that helmets must meet or exceed. This includes safeguards against impacts and penetrations, as well as provisions for electrical insulation. Distinguishing them from the Type I helmets, which are rated for top-only impact, Type II helmets are designed to provide protection from lateral impacts as well. This is a crucial enhancement given the dynamic nature of construction sites where impacts can come from any direction. Type II helmets typically feature a foam lining or other energy-absorbing materials within the shell and may also include innovations aimed at reducing rotational forces on the brain in the event of an oblique impact. Materials such as advanced thermoplastics or even composites like Kevlar are employed for their combination of lightweight, flexibility, and strength. Additional safety features may include retractable visors, fully adjustable four-point chinstraps, and systems for seamless integration with other personal protective equipment, all contributing to a heightened level of head protection that aligns with contemporary safety expectations.

Case Studies and Impact Analysis

Case Study 1: Multi-Site Construction Company Adopts Type II Helmets A prominent multi-site construction company in the Pacific Northwest decided to switch to ANSI-Z89.1 certified Type II safety helmets across all its locations. The decision followed an incident where a worker sustained a non-fatal head injury when hit by a falling tool from the second story of a building. Post-adoption, the company reported a 30% decline in head injury-related incidents in the following year. Workers credited the new helmets’ improved side impact resistance for a noticeable decrease in minor head traumas commonly reported from side bumps or knocks during work.

Case Study 2: Large-Scale Infrastructure Project Integrates Advanced Headgear On a large-scale infrastructure project, advanced Type II safety helmets were implemented from the onset. With workers regularly performing tasks at heights and in close proximity to heavy machinery, the project’s safety manager acknowledged a visible decrease in head injury leave requests. Worker testimonials highlighted the confidence gained from the enhanced protection, stating that the ancillary benefits, such as better retention due to the increased profile of the helmets, also seemed to indirectly improve overall safety mindfulness on the site.

Impact Analysis: Urban High-Rise Development In the fast-paced environment of an urban high-rise development, strict adherence to safety standards is paramount. An analysis conducted six months after transitioning to Type II helmets showed a reduction in the severity of head injuries with zero incidents leading to time off work, as opposed to three such cases in the six months preceding the switch. Interviews with workers revealed that the security provided by the chinstraps and the helmet’s lessened movement on the head were critical improvements, leading to better focus on tasks without the constant need to readjust their headgear.

Through these examples and the supporting statistics and personal accounts, the benefits of embracing the latest safety helmet standards are clear. This impact analysis underscores the tangible advantages of integrating advanced protective gear, signaling a progressive shift toward elevated safety norms and worker well-being in the industry.

Current Challenges and Future Outlook

The transition to Type II safety helmets in the construction industry has encountered its share of challenges – from resistance due to the cost and aesthetic differences, to reluctance rooted in habit and tradition. The personal attachment workers have to their hardhats, often seen as a badge of experience adorned with project stickers, has created a barrier to the adoption of what some might perceive as a more ‘industrial’ look. Despite these hurdles, the outlook for head protection technology is optimistic. There is growing recognition that investment in worker safety translates to long-term savings and productivity. Future improvements may include enhanced integration with other wearable technology, like augmented reality for on-site planning and inspection, or biometrics for monitoring signs of fatigue and heat stress. As these technologies evolve, along with a cultural shift in perceptions of safety gear, the construction industry is poised to reach unprecedented levels of safety and efficiency on the jobsite, with Type II helmets becoming the new standard in head protection.


In summary, the progression of construction safety helmets from their rudimentary origins to the advanced, multifaceted gear reflects the industry’s commitment to safeguarding its workforce. The significance of these helmets cannot be overemphasized; they embody the collective resolve to not only abide by safety regulations but to actively strive for a work environment that prioritizes the well-being of every worker. The ANSI-Z89.1 certified Type II safety helmets stand at the forefront of this endeavor, presenting an unmatched level of protection that addresses the multifarious risks present on modern construction sites.

As we look towards a safer future, the unequivocal adoption of these helmets across the industry is not just advisable—it’s imperative for enhancing worker safety. To that end, I urge stakeholders at every level—from site supervisors to company executives—to champion the widespread implementation of Type II safety helmets and set a new benchmark for jobsite safety.

Closing this discussion, let us not lose sight of the significance of continuous safety innovation in construction. The industry’s unfaltering pursuit of technological advancements in protective equipment is a testament to a culture that values human life and quality above all else. It is through this lens of perpetual improvement and adaptability that the construction field will continue to cultivate a legacy of safety excellence for generations to come.

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