How Protective Equipment Has Transformed Over Time

Personal protective equipment is a necessity to the industrial and construction industry. While the machinery used as continued to evolve overtime, so has the protective equipment used to keep workers out of harms way. According to an article from Cintas, OSHA defines personal protective equipment (PPE) as “equipment worn to minimize exposure to serious workplace injuries and illnesses.” In earlier years, it was said that only “wusses” wore masks or ear plugs while working. Back then, even fall protection procedures were taken loosely, often resulting in crew members wearing harnesses—that weren’t attached to anything. Continued efforts by OSHA, and companies that recognize health and safety standards improve working conditions and worker efficiency, has led to a whole new attitude about safety regulations within the industry.

The same article from Cintas does a great job breaking down the innovations in safety equipment:

Safety Harnesses: “In the early 1900s, many tradespeople used hemp or other natural fiber body belts. Shock-absorbing properties were not incorporated into safety belts until late 1959. This was a major step. When someone falls, the action of stopping the fall in progress can cause significant injuries, which shock absorption can help reduce or eliminate.

In the 1990s, snap hook connectors that locked, full body harnesses, straps, D-rings and other components of a fall prevention system entered into force. Since then, much of the focus has been on industry specialization, such as fall prevention for oil rig or aircraft workers.” In many industries, safety harnesses are not a mandated requirement—such as in the tree service industry.

Hard Hats: “An article in Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) magazine states that gold miners had crafted bowler hats to protect their heads from falling debris. These hats had rounded brims, were made of hard felt and were stuffed with cotton. The Golden Gate Bridge project was the first major project that required all workers to wear hard hats. These hats were constructed of canvas “impregnated with resin,” and had an internal suspension system. Later, hats were briefly made of aluminum, but these had the unfortunate side effect of corroding and conducting electricity. Thermoplastics became the material of choice in the 1950s, and injection-molding greatly assisted in creating a uniform consistency throughout.

Hard hat safety for industrial applications hasn’t improved greatly since then. Instead, the focus has been on comfort and convenience, including integration of other PPE, such as earplugs, and the incorporation of Bluetooth technology.”

Safety Glasses: “Safety glasses have an interesting history. According to another OHS magazine article, safety glasses may have first been created by native tribes in Alaska as a way to help prevent snow blindness. Since then, they have evolved to incorporate the myriad needs of protection from dust, splashes and other contaminants. They have also evolved to protect eyes from glare and wind.

The current focus on protective eye wear is to strongly encourage workers to actually wear them at all times. The industry has responded by creating fashionable eye wear that workers enjoy wearing and by even making prescription-based safety glasses and goggles. The simple act of wearing basic, standard-compliant protective eye wear can help reduce the incidence rate of eye injuries.”

As the industry continues to progress, innovation and change is expected and welcomed by all.