History Of Helmets and Different Safety Helmet Standards

When we think of safety, helmets often come to mind as a primary form of protection. From construction sites and mines to motorcycles and sports, helmets are ubiquitous in safeguarding individuals from head injuries. However, the helmets we are familiar with today have evolved tremendously from their ancient predecessors. With a lineage tracing back thousands of years, helmets have protected warriors on battlefields and have been adapted to serve many modern applications. This evolution didn’t just occur in the physical form of helmets and the standards that dictate their construction and safety performance.

In this article, we will journey through time to understand the origins and evolution of helmets. We will then dive into the modern world to explore the various safety helmet standards to ensure the utmost protection in different sectors and industries. Whether you are a safety enthusiast, a history buff, or someone curious about protective gear, this comprehensive guide will equip you with insightful knowledge about helmets and their significance in safety across the globe.

History Of Helmets

The history of helmets dates back thousands of years, with evidence of early helmet-like headgear being used as far back as 2500 BC. These early helmets were developed to protect soldiers’ heads during battles and were primarily made of bronze. They provided protection against sword blows and arrow strikes, offering a crucial defence on the battlefield.

The use of helmets continued to evolve over time. In the Victorian era, mining, construction, and shipbuilding industries faced significant safety risks. However, workers in these fields did not have adequate head protection. Miners, for example, only wore canvas caps that provided little defence against falling objects. Similarly, shipbuilders, dockworkers, and construction workers had no protective headwear despite the dangers they faced.

History Of Helmet

It wasn’t until the late 1800s that the first mass-produced hard hats designed to protect workers were introduced. The Patent Pulp Manufacturing Co Ltd of Thetford in Norfolk, England, played a crucial role in this development. They manufactured helmets using a mixture of pulp and lime, which were then formed, dried, lacquered, and reinforced with a steel plate on the inside. While these helmets were groundbreaking, they lacked comfort due to the absence of an internal cradle.

Hard hats became prominent in the shipbuilding industry, where dock workers were at constant risk of being struck by falling objects. From there, their usage gradually expanded into the construction industry. In the 1930s, hard hats were made mandatory for construction workers on projects such as the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge in the United States. This marked a significant step in establishing hard hats, or safety helmets, later known as standard safety equipment in various industries worldwide.

In Britain, the efforts to promote helmet usage extended beyond construction sites. Following the death of TE Lawrence, also known as Lawrence of Arabia, in a motorcycle accident, neurosurgeon Sir Hugh Cairns recognized the potential life-saving benefits of helmets. He researched and campaigned for motorcycle helmet use in the UK, contributing to the establishment of the first motorcycle helmet standard in 1952.

Two years later, in 1954, the first hard hat standard, known as The Light Duty Safety Helmet Standard, was introduced as a British Standard. These standards set guidelines for helmets’ design, construction, and performance, ensuring their effectiveness in protecting individuals from head injuries.

Today, helmets have become integral to safety measures in various industries. They provide crucial protection against falls from heights and the risk of being struck by moving, flying, or falling objects. In construction alone, falls from heights and being struck by objects account for many injuries and fatalities. The continued development and adherence to helmet standards aim to improve safety in the workplace and reduce the risk of head injuries for workers in diverse industries.

When Were Helmets Invented

Safety Helmet Standards

Safety helmet standards are guidelines and requirements that dictate helmets’ design, construction, testing, and performance. These standards ensure that helmets provide effective protection against specific hazards and meet certain criteria for quality and safety. The standards vary depending on the type of helmet and the industry or activity it is intended for. Here are some key standards related to safety helmets:

1. OSHA standard – U.S.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates specific requirements for head protection in the workplace and instructs that, regardless of industry, it’s the employer’s job to ensure their workers wear head protection when exposed to risks/hazards. To help employers follow those regulations, OSHA incorporates standards from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which is discussed in the next section.

Here’s what you need to know about OSHA’s head protection regulations.

Safety helmet standards: OSHA has two standards that regulate safety helmet requirements:

  1. 29 CFR 1910.135: Governs safety helmet requirements for general industry workers
  2. 29 CFR 1926.100: Refers to head protection requirements for construction, demolition, and renovation workers

Safety helmet requirements: Both standards require workers to wear safety helmets if they are at risk of being struck by falling objects, bumping their heads on fixed objects, or coming in contact with electrical hazards.

OSHA requires selection criteria for head protection that comply with ANSI/ISEA Z89.1. Simply put – a helmet that meets ANSI Z89.1 is OSHA compliant.

Helmet History

2. ANSI/ISEA Z89.1 standard – U.S.

ANSI helps employers follow OSHA regulations. The performance criteria for head protection is provided in ANSI Z89.1 American National Standard for Industrial Head Protection, incorporated in OSHA’s 29 CFR 1910.135 and by reference in 29 CFR 1910.6. ANSI Z89.1 requires four performance tests that must be met to assign a safety helmet type and class, which are:

  1. Force Transmission
  2. Apex Penetration
  3. Flammability
  4. Electrical Insulation

Safety helmet types: There are two types of protective safety helmets under this classification system that refer to impact/penetration protection:

  1. Type 1: Designed to reduce the force of impact resulting from a blow to the top of the head
  2. Type 2: Designed to reduce the force of impact resulting from a blow to the top, front, back, and sides of the head

Safety helmet classes: To improve comprehension and usefulness, there are electrical-protective classifications for helmets as follows:

  • Class G – General helmet: Designed to reduce exposure to low voltage conductors, proof tested at 2200V
  • Class E – Electrical helmet: Designed to reduce exposure to high voltage conductors, proof tested at 20,000V
  • Class C – Conductive helmet: Not intended to provide protection against contact with electrical conductors

Operating temperature range:

  • Basic temperature applications from -18C (0°F) to 49C (120°F) – No special marking on the helmet
  • Low-temperature applications down to -30°C (-22°F) – Labeling on the helmet “LT”
  • High-temperature applications up to 60°C (140°F) – Labeling on the helmet “HT”

Additionally, all safety helmets must feature a hard-outer shell and a lining that absorbs shock and incorporates a headband. Straps should suspend from the shell about 1-1¼ inches.

It is important to know that all safety helmets that adhere to ANSI/ISEA standards should be permanently marked with the manufacturer, the date of manufacture, ANSI designation, the Type and Class designation, and the head size range on the inside of the helmet shell. If your current safety helmet label is missing or is no longer legible, it is recommended that you replace your safety helmet as soon as possible.

Different Safety Helmet Standards

3. EN standards – Europe

EN397: The European standard code of practice (EN 397) guides manufacturers of safety helmets to ensure that minimum material grades are used. It also establishes the requirements for testing safety helmets, as safety helmets must be designed to protect the wearer from falling objects. Such protections safeguard the user against possible consequences such as brain injuries or skull fractures. The standard also includes protection against lateral deformation of the helmet.

The helmet will comprise of two main parts – the hard outer protective shell and the inner harness. All helmets certified according to EN 397 must meet these requirements:

  • Shock absorption, vertical
  • Penetration resistance (against sharp and pointed objects)
  • Flame resistance
  • Chin strap attachment: chin strap releases at a minimum of 150N (Newtons) and a maximum of 250N

Additional specifications are provided for ear muff attachment points and chin strap attachment points.

EN50365: Standard covers insulating helmets aimed at low voltage installations, which must protect against electric shocks and prevention of dangerous electric current passing through the head. Requirements include:

  • All helmets must also meet the requirements in accordance with EN 397
  • Protection against alternating voltage of up to 1000 V (AC) or direct voltage up to 1500 V (DC)
  • Insulating helmets must not contain any conductive parts
  • Air vents (if available) must not allow any accidental contact with live parts

EN14052: Standard covers high-performance industrial helmets, which must provide protection against falling objects and lateral impact along with the resulting damage to the brain, skull, and neck. Requirements include:

  • Shock absorption, vertical, and lateral
  • Penetration resistance, vertical, and lateral
  • Fastening system yield: Chin strap yields at minimum 150N and maximum 250 N
  • Fastening system effectiveness: During the shock absorption and penetration test, the helmet must not become detached from the test head
  • Flame resistance

EN12492: Helmets for mountaineers must provide protection against hazards that may occur during activities undertaken by mountaineers. Requirements include:

  • Shock absorption, vertical, frontal, lateral, dorsal
  • Penetration resistance
  • Carrier element (chin strap releases at min. 500N)
  • Strength of carrier element: Chin strap may exhibit maximum elongation of 25mm
  • Carrier element effectiveness: The helmet must not slide from the head
Helmet Standard

4. CSA Z94.1 Standard – Canada

The performance criteria for head protection in Canada are provided in the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Industrial Protective Headwear, Z94.1, which applies to selecting, maintaining, and using industrial safety helmets in the construction, mining, public utilities, and forestry sectors. Along with optional tests, such as reverse orientation, CSA Z94.1 requires six performance tests that must be met to assign a safety helmet type and class, which are:

  1. Dielectric Strength
  2. Impact Attenuation
  3. Penetration Resistance
  4. Passive Retention (Stability)
  5. Shell Flammability
  6. Liner Ignition Resistance

Safety helmet types: The CSA Standard (Z94.1) tests for Type 1 and Type 2 safety helmets include dielectric strength, impact attenuation, penetration resistance, passive retention, shell flammability, and liner ignition resistance (typically only Type 2 for lateral impact).

  1. Type 1: Crown-only headwear – Designed for applications where it can be shown that there is no hazard related to lateral impact; reversible headwear should be selected if required
  2. Type 2: Crown and lateral headwear – Designed for applications where there is potential impact on the crown and lateral areas of the head, where moving objects are present, and when the hazard assessment cannot determine the type

Safety helmet classes: To improve comprehension and usefulness, the following designations refer to impact and penetration protection:

  • Class G – General helmet: Headwear is non-conducting and is required to pass the dielectric strength test of 2,200 volts for 1 minute
  • Class E – Electrical helmet: Headwear is non-conducting and is required to pass the dielectric strength test of 20,000 volts for 3 minutes
  • Class C – Conductive helmet: Headwear does not provide dielectric protection
Safety Helmet Standard

5. 77.1710 standard – MSHA PPE requirements

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is an agency under the Department of Labor that works to prevent illness, injury, and death by promoting safe work practices for U.S. miners.

Like OSHA, the agency’s regulatory authority is derived from a specific law, which the agency enforces. MSHA carries out provisions of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 and administers the Mine Improvement and Emergency Response Act of 2006, which further expanded mine requirements and sanctions.

Mining safety helmet standards: Regarding protective clothing requirements, MSHA has their own PPE standard under 77.1710. Section (d) specifies the need for head protection from falling objects and to protect miners against electrical shock or burn.

  • Hard hats must meet or exceed the ANSI Z89.1 specifications (mentioned in the previous section)
  • If helmets are painted, the paint base must be nonmetallic.

In conclusion, helmets have a rich history, evolving from ancient bronze war gear to sophisticated modern-day safety equipment. This journey is marked by innovations in design and materials and the implementation of rigorous safety standards tailored to specific industries and purposes. The current diversity in safety helmet standards, such as OSHA, ANSI, EN, CSA, and MSHA, ensures that helmets meet stringent criteria for protection against various hazards. As society progresses, helmets’ development and the refinement of safety standards must keep pace, ensuring that individuals in all walks of life benefit from the highest level of head protection possible.