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Beyond Hard Hats: The Silent Epidemic of Construction Brain Injuries

Traumatic Brain Injuries on Construction Sites Prompt Innovative Safety Improvements

In recent years, the prevalence of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) sustained in construction accidents has raised concerns within the industry. Construction sites, known for their potential hazards and high-risk nature, have seen a surge in TBI cases as workers face an increased risk of falling objects or being smacked upside the head from lateral impacts.

The data reveals that workers involved in activities such as roofing, scaffolding, and demolition are particularly vulnerable to head injuries due to falling objects, slips and falls from heights, or accidental collisions with equipment. These incidents often result in severe consequences like TBI’s, concussions, or skull fractures. The government statistics underscore the urgent importance of using personal protective equipment and promoting a culture of wearing protective head gear on construction sites.

There are more deaths and injuries in construction than in any other industry or profession. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics have reported there were 169,200 injuries in construction in 2021 and 66% of construction deaths result from falls, struck-by, electrocution, and caught-by incidents where hard hats play an integral protective role.

Not much has changed to help protect the heads of our construction brethren since Edward W. Bullard introduced a clever safety device in 1919. Enter the: Hard Hat!

Picture it: 1919, a time when mustaches were waxed to perfection and hairstyles defied gravity. In this era of daring adventurers and eccentric inventors, along came Edward W. Bullard, determined to create something more than just a stylish hat for his fellow workers. Back in the day, hard hats were not as robust and resilient as they are today. Bullard's genius idea was to create a 'hard boiled' hat using steam and hot water. The process involved placing a hat made of canvas or leather on top of a rounded form, which was then subjected to intense heat until it took the desired shape.

Amongst the various safety precautions adopted by construction companies, the use of hard hats has become the centerpiece of the personal protective equipment repertoire. Hardhats are designed to provide substantial protection against head injuries caused by impacts from falling objects or knocks from the side. These protective helmets consist of a strong outer shell made from impact-resistant materials like fiberglass or polycarbonate, along with an inner suspension system that absorbs shock upon impact.

Well, that is until just recently, as a group of researchers and product developers have stood the standard hard hat design on its ear.

Dr. Michael Bottlang, director of the Legacy Biomechanics Lab in Portland, Oregon, isan esteemed researcher renowned for his groundbreaking studies on traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), has teamed up with Dr. Steve Madey, a sought-after microvascular surgeon, and a merry band of other scientists and engineers to create an innovative product called WaveCel. This ingenious team has developed a series of protective helmets made of cutting-edge materials and equipped with advanced impact-absorption technology similar to that of a car crumple zone diverting forces through flexing & gliding techniques. Dr’s. Bottlang and Madey claim, “… these new materials and engineering designs provide 73% more absorption of rotational force than a standard helmet reducing the concussion risk up to 98%.”

This head protection advancement appears as a standout breakthrough in protecting heads to revolutionize TBI management. This cutting-edge technology promises to provide better outcomes for patients suffering from TBI’s by reducing secondary damage and improving overall recovery.

Protecting against traumatic brain injuries in the construction industry is no laughing matter. Researchers and product developers have made significant strides improving the well-being of workers' heads through innovation and applied advanced materials. All of this, in an effort not to turn construction sites into slapstick comedy shows with workers getting hit on the head by falling objects or swinging 2x4’s. Thankfully, these efforts improved upon 100-year-old technology to help in the prevention of traumatic brain injuries in the high-risk construction industry.


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