September 28, 2023

NIOSH Looks to Sports for Better Safety Helmet Designs, Testing Methods

NIOSH discusses ongoing research into more effective safety helmets for construction workers in a recent feature of the agency’s online newsroom. This research includes studies by the agency and its partners of helmet designs and testing methods like those used for outdoor and contact athletics, according to the new webpage.

Safety helmets are essential for preventing work-related traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Helmets used in the construction industry are designated as either Type I helmets, which reduce wearers’ risk of injury from blows to the top of the head, or Type II helmets, which protect wearers from injuries caused by blows to the top or sides of the head. However, NIOSH reports that some construction workers have begun using helmets like those typically worn for sports such as mountain climbing or ice hockey, which have been found to be more protective. Consequently, the agency is aiming to design safety helmets with better shock absorption properties through the use of more effective testing methods, in part by looking to athletics. For example, a NIOSH study published in January 2023 (PDF) used dummy crash tests like those used for motorcycle, bicycle, and football helmets to more realistically evaluate the performance of four Type I helmet designs.

TBIs can affect brain function, affect injured workers’ ability to return to their jobs, and result in expensive long-term rehabilitation and disability costs. Construction workers are at higher risk for TBIs because their work environments often feature hazards such as falling and flying objects and falls from heights. The construction industry records the most TBIs among workplaces in the United States, according to NIOSH. Workers at small construction companies, as well as older, foreign-born, and structural iron and steel workers, are at higher risk for fatal TBIs.

More information is available from NIOSH’s new Safety Helmet webpage and a November 2022 NIOSH Science Blog post on construction helmets and work-related brain injuries.