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The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced it is replacing traditional hard hats with more modern safety helmets, in order to protect their employees better when they are on inspection sites.

Dating back to the 1960s, traditional hard hats protect the top of a worker's head but have minimal side impact protection and also lack chin straps. Without the straps, traditional hard hats can fall off a worker's head if they slip or trip, leaving them unprotected. In addition, traditional hard hats have lacked vents and trapped heat inside.

“For decades, traditional hard hats have been the go-to choice for protecting workers' heads. Made of rigid materials like high-density polyethylene, traditional hard hats provide a basic level of protection,” reads OSHA’s Safety and Health Information Bulletin on the subject. “However, as technology and scientific understanding of head injuries have advanced, safety helmets now provide further improvements to enhance worker safety and reduce the risk of severe head trauma.”

The OSHA bulletin, published in late November, details the key differences between traditional hard hats and safety helmets and the advancements made in design and materials. In addition to the chin straps, today's safety helmets offer the option of face shields or goggles to protect against projectiles, dust, and chemical splashes. Others offer built-in hearing protection or communication systems to enable clear communication in noisy environments.

The agency is recommending safety helmets be used by people working in the construction industry; the oil and gas industry; working from heights; electrical work; high-temperature environments; specialized work environments; specific regulatory requirements; and low-risk environments.

Additional industry organizations, such as the Associated General Contractors and Mips, have spoken out on the topic and are also encouraging the switch from hard hats to helmets. (Read a previous BUILDER Q&A on the subject here.)

“OSHA wants employers to make safety and health a core value in their workplaces and is committed to doing the same by leading by example and embracing the evolution of head protection,” states the release.