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Digging through History: On National Miner's Day, ANSI Celebrates 100 Years of the Hard Hat


12/6/2019

Without the protection of hard hats, millions of workers' lives would be at risk. On National Miner's Day on December 6, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) recognizes the 100-year anniversary of the hard hat—often the first line of defense for miners and other laborers around the world. ANSI also pays tribute to the crucial standardization work integral to the safety of hard hats and their ongoing evolution. In light of the anniversary, ANSI spoke with Wells Bullard, CEO of ANSI member Bullard, (pictured below, right) about how hard hats have evolved over time.

National Miner's Day pays tribute to the 325,000 men and women who work in nearly 13,000 surface and underground mines across the United States. For the thousands in the field, and many more in other labor occupations, personal protection equipment (PPE) has changed immensely over time. In fact, at the turn of the 20th century, hard hats were nonexistent. Industrial workers tasked with building bridges and laying the foundation of American infrastructure, from bridges to skyscrapers, wore something called a "soft derby," hats that resembled baseball caps, according to Bullard. Faced with falling debris and working at great heights, laborers were at risk of injuries and fatal accidents every day at their job sites.

While the first hard hats were in production by 1919, they weren't required at a specific job site until the 1930's. The creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the 1970s led to a major safety development for laborers: Wearing hard hats at hazardous work sites became mandatory.

How Do Standards Support Hard Hats?

Standards support hard hats, which have evolved from the first hard boiled hats "manufactured using steamed canvas, glue, a leather brim, and black paint, [and] designed by my great-grandfather," says Bullard. Today, hard hats are available in a variety of neon colors that help enhance worker visibility. As Occupational Health and Safety asserts, permanent labels or markings are required on hard hats by both the ISEA-sponsored American National Standard (ANS) and the CSA head protection standards. Hard hats must also contain user information such as instructions pertaining to sizing, care and service life guidelines.

The first American Standard Safety Code was approved in 1921 and covered the protection of the heads and eyes of industrial workers. ANSI, which was originally established as the American Engineering Standards Committee (AESC), has helped support the safety of industrial workers, including miners, through the decades. In its first 10 years, AESC approved national standards in the fields of mining, electrical and mechanical engineering, construction, and highway traffic.

The ISEA-sponsored standard, ANSI/ISEA Z89.1-2014(R 2019), American National Standard for Industrial Head Protection, describes types and classes, as well as testing and performance requirements for protective helmets. These include recommended safety requirements for authorities considering the establishment of regulations or codes concerning the use of protective helmets. The American National Standard was developed by the head protection group at the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA), an ANSI member and accredited standards developer.

Wearing protective headwear that meets the requirements of CSA Z94.1-2015, Industrial protective headwear performance, selection, care, and use,will reduce the likelihood of injuries to the head.The standard supersedes the previous editions published in 2005, 1992, 1977, and 1966 under the title Industrial Protective Headwear. Published by CSA Group, the standard was prepared by the Technical Committee on Industrial Protective Headwear, under the jurisdiction of the Strategic Steering Committee on Occupational Health and Safety, and has been formally approved by the Technical Committee.

ANSI: How have hard hats evolved during the century?

W. Bullard: "While the Golden Gate Bridge was being constructed [in the 1930s] in San Francisco, bridge engineer Joseph B. Strauss contacted Edward W. Bullard to request that his company adapt its hats to protect bridge workers. One of the problems the bridge project faced was falling rivets, which could cause serious injury to workers. This project transformed the mining helmet into a durable industrial hard hat and became America’s first designated 'Hard Hat Area.'"

"The standard hard hat design has evolved over the years, from canvas to metal to fiberglass and, eventually, to thermoplastics which is easy to mold and shape with applied heat. The hard hat’s suspension and shell remain a staple in the hat’s design that my great-grandfather would still recognize. Today, workers want to look stylish and be comfortable on the job. The more stylish and comfortable a worker’s PPE is, the more likely he/she will wear it."

ANSI: What is the Turtle Club and how does it underscore safety of hard hats?

W. Bullard: "The [Bullard] Turtle Club motto, “Shell on Head, We’re not Dead,” recognizes those who survived life-threatening circumstances by wearing a hard hat. Jim Rahn was a bomb loader stationed in Australia and the Philippines during World War II, then later started a career as an ironworker in 1948. During his decades of construction work, Jim often braved challenging environments on a job site. He earned his induction into the Turtle Club in 1963 while working in a new wing of a hospital."

"Jim was planing plank in the center door of an elevator shaft at St. Luke’s Hospital in Boise, Idaho, on May 13, 1963. Meanwhile, the work skip was running in the left-center of the shaft. As Jim looked to the other doorway to confirm the plank fit, the work skip struck him on the top of the head. Jim was rushed to the emergency room of the hospital, then shortly after released with minor injuries. His Bullard hard hat protected him that day from serious injury and possible death. Despite the close call, Jim continued his construction career, retiring after 40 years as an ironworker. Albert “Jim” Rahn (1923-2014) was an early inductee into the Turtle Club, and one we are proud to commemorate today."

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