High-Tech Headgear is Here

A new hardhat blends common sense and technology

May/June 2022

Jack Roberts / May 18, 2022 / 2 minutes
Jack Roberts

The history of the humble hardhat can be traced back to 1919. But their use didn’t really gain much traction until construction of the Golden Gate Bridge during the 1930s.

In an age where “real men” walked around on steel beams hundreds of feet in the air building skyscrapers, the Golden Gate Bridge product raised eyebrows by stringing a large safety net under the slowly expanding span. But even with the net in place, dropped tools and building materials (usually rivets) were commonplace. And if a blow to the head knocked a worker unconscious, a fall was certain. Tumbling to certain death in the cold waters of San Francisco Bay far below was a possibility, since there was no guarantee he’d actually land in the safety net.

Head injuries were so commonplace that, for the first time in history, helmets were mandated on the Golden Gate jobsite, with many workers making their own. The design was usually based on U.S. Army World War I “soup bowl” helmets and was usually a blending of leather and hard-boiled canvas to increase durability – hence the name “hardhat.”

Hardhats proved so effective in preventing jobsite injuries that they soon became commonplace on American jobsites and eventually became mandatory safety equipment across a wide array of industries. Interestingly, given the technology explosion that is sweeping every aspect of our society today, the universally recognizable hardhat design hasn’t changed much since the 1950s. But a company called Studson is about to change that.

Studson was founded by CEO Ryan Barnes, an avid skier and cyclist, and Chief Product Officer Drew Chilson, also a cyclist and a gravity sports enthusiast. For Barnes, Studson hardhats are an intensely personal mission. At the age of 16, before helmets were required for competition skiing, Barnes was training on a slope when he lost control at 40 mph and went head-first into a tree. He had to be carried off the mountain on a headboard and nearly lost sight in one eye. It was a harrowing experience and one that made him acutely aware of the lack of adequate head protection in a number of industries, including construction.

Barnes calls the Studson SHK-1 family of industrial safety helmets the most innovative take on hardhats to hit the market. Looking more like a mountain-climber’s helmet than a conventional hardhat, the SHK-1 is certainly a departure from the norm in more than just appearances. Barnes says the helmet is designed with cutting-edge protective components used in gravity sports that have never been used in safety helmets before. This includes Koroyd, a lightweight, honeycomb synthetic material arrayed in a series of welded tubes that crumple instantly and consistently on impact, absorbing maximum force in a controlled manner, minimizing energy transferred to the head. The design and its unique behavior during an impact helps to protect the skull and brain from direct and angled impacts which may reduce the risk of suffering a life-changing injury. Even more innovative, all Studson hardhats come with a fully integrated chinstrap that is designed to be comfortable while affording unhampered, full articulation and rotation of the head. Because what good is a hardhat if it falls off right before an object strikes your head?

In the event of an accident, an integrated electronic chip called twICEme uses near-field communication technology to store individual emergency contacts and critical medical information sends an alert that an accident has occurred and allows first responders to quickly access vital data once help arrives and every second matters.

The Studson SHK-1 is available for purchase.

About the Author

Roberts covers the equipment side of our industry for Roads & Bridges.

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