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Head injuries warning for construction hard hats

21 September 2020 | By Will Mann
Image: Dreamstime

Image: Dreamstime

Hard hats used by most construction workers may be ineffective in reducing risk of head injuries, while the methodology used to test the helmets could be outdated.

That’s the warning from a leading brain protection technology specialist at the start of Hard Hat Awareness Week.

MIPS, whose technology is already found in several types of helmets, installs a low-friction layer inside hard hats which can reduce rotational motion caused by an oblique impact from a fall or getting hit by a falling object. The Swedish firm says its ‘Multi-directional Impact Protection System’ could improve the head protection of thousands of workers and make construction sites safer.

Some 595 construction workers suffered head injuries during the period 2016/17 to 2018/19, statistics from the Health & Safety Executive show. Of these injuries, 186 resulted in loss of consciousness and 79 caused concussion. Falls from height and being struck by a moving object were among the most common causes.

Max Strandwitz, CEO of MIPS, said: “From our research, we know that in the majority of cases our head hits the ground at an angle when we fall. The same applies when impact, collision or contact with an object occurs. These scenarios are more likely to happen in high risk professions, and in particular, on construction sites.

“The problem is that conventional industrial safety helmets most often protect against injuries such as skull fractures, but do not reduce rotational motion to a sufficient level.  Our brain is about six to seven times more susceptible to rotational motion than to linear impacts.”

Above: The MIPS technology inside a helmet.

MIPS is advocating for updating of the current testing standard for industrial safety helmets, based on European Standard EN 397.

“The test standard dates back 50 years and should be improved with more recent biomechanical understanding,” said MIPS co-founder and chief science officer Peter Halldin. “It involves a 5kg weight being dropped from 1m on to a safety helmet. Future test standards should be improved by mimicking fall accidents and impacts resulting in rotational motion.”

Soon, safety helmet with the MIPS brain protection system will be launched in the UK and Halldin says he has already demonstrated the technology to numerous construction companies at the firm’s laboratory near Stockholm.

“The construction health and safety heads who have visited us tend not to think about the effect of rotational impact,” he explained. “They assumed the EN 397 testing methodology means all the hard hats used by workers on their sites meet the required standards. But once they start thinking about rotational impact, they realise how obvious an issue it is, and become worried.”

Construction Manager is working with MIPS to explain the technology to construction health and safety professionals over the coming weeks, running a round table and a webinar, where the safety helmets will be demonstrated. For further information, contact [email protected].