At the new East Gresham Elementary School being built to open this fall, construction workers are wearing new safety helmets that include a chin strap.
Portland-based Bremik Construction gave all its employees, who work directly on construction sites, helmets to replace their hard hats as part of a safety initiative during the company's safety week from Monday to Friday, May 6-10.
Stone Rose, superintendent for Bremik Construction, said they are calling the new safety equipment builder's helmets instead of hard hats to acknowledge the difference. The new helmets are proving a welcome safety improvement, and Rose has barely had complaints from crew members about the switch.
The helmets are more lightweight, smaller and vented than traditional hard hats, but are just as durable.
"The way they're designed, the airflow is better than a standard hard hat," Rose said.
The most common injuries on construction sites are caused from slips or falls, and when a worker falls the first thing they do is put out their hands to brace themselves as their hard hat flies away. The strap ensures a helmet will stay on even when falling.
Hard-hat designs have not changed much since the protective gear became a mandatory part of construction uniforms approximately 45 years ago, according to a press release from Bremik Construction. The new safety helmets were modeled after rock-climbing helmets.
While the hard hats allow for more airflow, a brim is missing and its absence leaves workers' skin more exposed to the elements. Bremik construction worker Nick Woods built a cardboard brim around his new helmet to protect his skin from the harsh sun while working in unseasonably hot spring weather on the roof of the new school building.
Since being hired last year as the company's safety director, Michelle Brunetto has implemented safety improvement measures including the safety week itself.
She expects the builder's safety helmets will become an industry-wide standard, but her company is just ahead of the curve.
"We are excited about this safety innovation and are proud to be the first general contractor in Portland to require these helmets to be worn by every employee on every job site," Brunetto said. "In providing these helmets to employees, we're decreasing the chances of traumatic head injuries, allowing more people to go home safely to their families at the end of each work day."
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