By Brad Sant, senior vice president of safety & education, ARTBA

The transportation construction industry can point to many projects and devices that have been used throughout its history to improve safety for both workers and roadway users.  This year marks the 100th anniversary of the hard hat, and the transportation industry was one of the very first to widely make use of its safety benefits.

E.W. Bullard designed the first commercially produced hard hat in 1919.  According to the Bullard Company, E.W. was inspired by the army helmets he witnessed while serving in Europe during World War I.  Upon returning home, he worked for his father’s company that created equipment for miners and conceived the hard hat.  That hat was called the “Hard Boiled” hat.  It was made by forming canvas and leather through steaming, and when dry, covering the hat with black paint.  They later added a suspension system.

It was the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge in the 1930’s, however, that brought the hard hat into prominence.  While the famous bridge was being built in San Francisco, bridge engineer Joseph B. Strauss contacted Bullard and requested the company adapt its hats to protect bridge workers.  “On the Golden Gate Bridge, we had the idea we could cheat death by providing every known safety device for workers,” Strauss wrote in 1937 for The Saturday Evening Post. “To the annoyance of the daredevils who loved to stunt at the end of the cables…we fired any man we caught stunting on the job.”

The bridge project not only supplied hard hats for its workers, but Bullard engineers also designed a supplied air respirator for those responsible for blasting the steelwork prior to the application of the paint, and for riveters to prevent inhalation of lead-tainted fumes created when the hot rivets struck the lead paint of the towers.

According to information provided by the Golden Gate Bridge Highway & Transportation District, workers were provided safety lines to help prevent falls, and a safety net was suspended under the “floor” of the Bridge during the construction of the roadway structure. It was suspended along the entire length of the span from pylon to pylon and extended 10 feet outside the trusses on both sides and gave workers the confidence to work quicker.

Other safety equipment given to workers included glare-free goggles to enhance visibility and ward off “snow-blindness” caused by the sun reflecting off the water; special hand and face cream to protect against powerful winds; and specially formulated diets were prescribed to help fight dizziness during the high, steep tower and roadway construction.   The project also had an on-site field hospital, staffed by doctors, set up near the wharf at Fort Point.

ARTBA celebrates the innovators that continuously search for ways to make the transportation construction work place a better, safer place for everyone who enters.