Bullard and the Hard Hat

11. August 2014
Hard Hats

Head protection is commonplace in contemporary workplaces, but in the early 20th century and before hard hats did not exist to protect workers from collisions or falling objects. While protective hats did exist, such as the leather hats manufactured by the E.D. Bullard Company to protect miners, the development of rigid "skull buckets" did not occur until almost 1920.

The creation of these hard hats was the product of company founder and safety magnate, Edward Dickinson Bullard, and his son, Edward W. Bullard. The younger Bullard returned from World War I with a steel military helmet that provided the impetus for developing a sturdier safety helmet more resistant to falling objects and other materials that might strike workers in the head. In 1919 the Bullard company patented a "hard-boiled hat" made of steamed canvas and glue. Soon after, the U.S. Navy commissioned protective caps for shipyard workers, prompting the widespread use of hard hats on worksites where head injuries might occur. Around the same time, Bullard developed the suspension within hard hats that allowed for more effective deflection of force from the head.

During the construction of the Hoover Dam in 1931, hard hat use was made mandatory by the joint venture involved in the project. During the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, project chief engineer, Joseph Strauss, asked Bullard to create a hard hat to protect workers conducting sandblasting. The result was a further advance in hard hat creation, with face protection, a viewing window, and a supply hose for fresh air.

As times have changed, so have the hard hats. Over the years the materials used to create hard hats have changed, including aluminum (except for electrical workers), fiberglass, and plastic. Designs have changed, too, adding different features for different occupations and the hazards presented by the work. But while the look of hard hats has changed over the past 100 years, the need for their use at the workplace has not, and the hard hat remains a mainstay of personal protective equipment.

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Herbert William Heinrich and Engineering Controls

14. May 2014
Engineering Controls

Herbert William Heinrich (1886-1962) was a pioneer in industrial safety who published Industrial Accident Prevention, A Scientific Approach in 1931. In this work he used empirical findings from his occupation as Assistant Superintendent of the Engineering and Inspection Division of Travelers Insurance Company to establish several safety protocols we still use today.

Foremost amongst these is the determination that (at the time) 88% of all workplace accidents and injuries/illnesses occurred as a consequence of "man failure," which meant a flaw in the work of a particular individual. Even so, Heinrich strongly emphasized the removal or isolation, if possible, of hazards from the workplace to reduce these man failures and accidents.

Today OSHA favors the combined use of Engineering and Administrative Controls, and Safe Work Practices in the form of safety and job training. Engineering controls are foremost amongst these and involve the removal or seclusion of workplace hazards from the work environment, thus eliminating worker contact with the hazard. Heinrich himself dedicated a large portion of his book to the subject of machine guarding to protect workers from their equipment.

As the employee of an insurance company, Heinrich was also interested in reducing insurance claims, and indicated the effects of protecting workers from injury on the workplace.

Heinrich's findings also resulted in Heinrich's Law, which stated that for every accident that causes major injury, 29 accidents cause minor injuries and 300 accidents cause no injuries (i.e., "near miss" incidents)--more recent studies in light of safer workplaces have altered this ratio considerably. While this ratio has been cited by the National Safety Council as one of the least tenable assertions in his work and workplaces have changed in the near century that has passed since his study, the tenets behind his work remain a strong influence on workplace safety practices today, with particular emphasis on the fact that the expense of protecting workers by eliminating hazards in the workplace has saved countless lives and dollars.

While Heinrich's Law may no longer be accurate, it's reasonable to believe that Heinrich's influence on workplace safety practices were a key component of making them inaccurate, resulting in safer workplaces. We can no doubt feel confident he would be satisfied with that outcome.

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Bernardino Ramazzini and Occupational Medicine

13. January 2014


Italian physician Bernardino Ramazzini (1633-1714) is probably not a name with which many are familiar, but his book De Morbis Artificum Diatriba (Diseases of Workers) is one of the first works on occupational disease and medicine, and a work that marks a clear connection between workers, workplace hazards, and the diseases that result from specific occupations and exposures.

Ramazzini's book focused on the health hazards of chemicals, dust, metals, repetitive or violent motions, odd postures, and other disease-causing agents. Ramazzini studied the diseases found in workers from 52 occupations and is often referred to as the Father of Occupational Medicine.

Perhaps one of his most interesting contributions was the suggestion that physicians ask the question "What is your occupation?" in addition to the standard roll of questions prescribed by Hippocrates, allowing the physician to determine the patient's ailment as a consequence of likely exposures or health risks related to their job.

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Georg Agricola and De Re Metallica

9. July 2012

Not to be mistaken with the heavy metal band, 16th-century scholar and scientist Georg Agricola's (1494-1555) De Re Metallica (Latin for "On the Nature of Metals") was one of the first documents to both identify occupational diseases related to mining as well as propose suggestions to alleviate them.

The book, published in 1556, remained the foremost text on mining for nearly two centuries afterward. While largely a treatise on the history and proper procedures for mining, it also described the common diseases of miners and mining hazards. At the same time the book provided suggestions to alleviate these hazards, including silicosis, through proper ventilation, as well as safe methods for the transportation of heavy equipment.

As a result, Agricola became a prominent and long-standing endorser of industrial hygiene for miners, an endorsement realized today in the United States in the form of the Mining Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), created in 1977.

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Sir Percivall Pott: Health Science Guides Legislation

5. June 2012

Sir Percivall Pott (1714-1788) was an English surgeon and a contributor to the science of epidemiology, which is the study of health events in well-defined populations. Pott recognized that certain populations are more prone to specific diseases, which may in turn be caused by the specific hazards of their profession. Nowhere was this more evident to Pott than in the chimney sweeps of London.

In 1775, Pott determined the high rate of cancer in chimney sweeps was caused by their high exposure rate to carcinogenic chimney soot. This observation provided a clear link between occupational hazards and the health of workers.

Pott’s recognition of the connection between the carcinogenic soot and the higher-than-normal cases of scrotal cancer in chimney sweeps led ultimately to the creation of the Chimney Sweeper’s Act of 1788 by British Parliament.

This act is one of the first examples of legislation passed by a government body designed to protect workers from workplace hazards.

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Alice Hamilton: Industrial Hygiene Pioneer

11. May 2012


In the early 1900s, long before the existence of MSHA, OSHA, or NIOSH, Dr. Alice Hamilton (Feb. 27, 1869 - September 22, 1970) led efforts to improve industrial hygiene by observing industrial conditions firsthand.

In the early 1900s, Hamilton became interested in the occupational injuries and illness workers faced on the heels of the Industrial Revolution, which had created new dangers in the workplace. During her exploration of medical literature from outside the US, she noted that industrial medicine did not receive much attention in the US.

In 1908 Hamilton was appointed to the Occupational Disease Commission of Illinois, the first such investigative body in the US. She focused her efforts on occupational toxic disorders and was able to provide evidence of a correlation between worker illness and exposure to toxins at the workplace. Her findings helped influence reforms in industrial hygiene, both voluntary and regulatory, to improve the health of workers.

On February 27, 1987, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) dedicated its research facility as the Alice Hamilton Laboratory for Occupational Safety and Health.

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