Clayco, a national design-build firm, has partnered with a team of students from the Savannah College of Art and Design’s SCADpro program to develop a series of “re-design” concepts for the traditional construction hard hat.

According to Bob Clark, CEO and Chairman of Clayco, the standard design of the hard hats used in mining, manufacturing, and construction industries has not changed much in the past 60 years. While this design protects almost 50% of the head, it does not allow for any protection of the jaw, cheek, neck, back of the head, according to the SCAD student team's primary research. Some workers who wear hard hats report their helmets fit poorly, posing a safety hazard - an especial issue for the rising number of female construction workers. Others say the helmet is too hot, too sweaty, and looks unattractive.

There is also no allowance for eye and ear protection, which could prevent 90% of workplace eye injuries, according to Prevent Blindness America, or 99% of noise-induced hearing loss incidents, according to Etymotic Research.

“The future of hard hats is one of the key components to creating a safe work environment,” says Clark. “…The new design will be lightweight, safe, modern, comfortable, and cool while protecting from permanent, life-changing injuries or death.”

In order to solve for these pain points, Clayco reached out to SCADpro to form a design team that could develop new solutions to the hard hat’s long-standing problems. The resulting team was made up of twelve junior, senior, and graduate students in the design management, industrial design, graphic design and equestrian studies degree programs: Violet Peng, Bérénice Plessis, Charu Pardasani, Genevieve Hiller, Cole Fungaroli, Inika Shetty, Caroline Pavlov, Penghao Li, Jake Wyand, Karunya Mallela, Ford Williams, and Brianne Link.

In its first round of research, the SCADpro team visited Clayco’s residence hall jobsite at SCAD’s Atlanta campus to observe the crew and interview them about their experiences. During this process, the team observed that the sweatbands at the back of the helmet were uncomfortable for workers, and the plastic was prone to breaking and scratching. The wind could knock hats off at high elevations, and ventilation was necessary to keep workers cool in hot weather.

A quarter of Clayco workers interviewed described wearing a hard hat as “overheated” or “uncomfortable.” Seventy-two percent wore sunglasses on the job, and 58% personalized their helmets with stickers. When asked what they would include in the "ultimate" hard hat, responses included no straps, sun protection, attachments, small and lightweight, proper fit, and ventilation.

The Jupiter (top), Captain (middle) and Pollux (bottom) hard hat concepts.
Courtesy of SCAD The Jupiter (top), Captain (middle) and Pollux (bottom) hard hat concepts.

“During the research phase, the SCAD student team found that 90% of on-site head injuries are due to workers removing hard hats because they find it to be uncomfortable, or not aesthetically pleasing,” says Paul Runko, collaboration manager with SCADpro. “The challenge then became—how do we design a hard hat that is comfortable, good-looking, and has customizable functionality? Students met user needs with upgraded ventilation, built-in lamps, and modern lines, and illustrated how improved user experience could increase safety.”

Secondary sources of information included comparisons of safety helmets in the existing market, as well as a biomimicry-minded study of toucans’ beaks, tortoise shells, woodpeckers, and mantis shrimp.

Following this research phase, the student team conducted two rounds of ideation sketches, which included a list of hard hat users’ needs and potential solutions. Following feedback from Clayco, the team coalesced its ideas into three distinct hard hat prototypes, designed with an eye toward improvements in weight, ventilation, comfort, attachments, and allowance for personalization.

The project’s prototypes, modeled in Ren foam and vacuum forming plastic sheets, include:

  • The Captain, a compact model that fits close to the head, with allowance for improved ventilation and comfort and an extended brim on either end for protection from the elements. Its dual port system allows for multiple accessory attachments on a single port, which may pivot independently on each other.
  • The Pollux, a full-brimmed prototype with integrated, closeable ventilation intakes in the front of the helmet and outlets in the back. It features a rechargeable light on the front, and may be used with a magnetic chin strap.
  • The Jupiter, designed for versatility and use with attachments. Four individual attachment points are located around the hat for use with visors, face shields, and headphones, among other potential features.

Clayco intends to continue developing these designs, and eventually to manufacture them, following further testing and design processes, including input from manufacturers, OSHA, and other regulatory bodies.

“We are extremely excited that the hard concepts developed for Clayco will be tested and follow 49 other SCADpro products to market,” Runko says. “While we don’t know an exact release date, we’re excited to continue to watch SCAD student concepts contribute to industry innovation.”

This article was originally published on Builder.