Saturday, October 31, 2015

Helmets - Protecting your noggin at a fraction of the price of brain surgery

Typical 4-point suspension
ANSI type I protection
Traditional hard-hats used by construction workers aren't much more than a skid lid to keep your hair on your scalp.  That isn't to say it isn't a good thing, especially for us 'folically challenged' folks.  However, when you flip one of these over and study the inside you suddenly realize that the shock absorption mechanism is anything more than a few nylon ribbons that are supposed to 'predictably' fail and take some of the wham! out of the slam!-bam! of a falling object.

There is no joy in scraping your skull along the bottom of a low-lying air duct, sprinkler pipe, or cross-bracing steel.  The pain is excruciating, and dripping blood from the catwalk is poor manners.

A few years ago, well actually ALOT of years ago, helmet manufacturers realized that adding a layer of crushable foam (typically styrofoam) to the inside of a helmet would increase the energy dissipation significantly.  We first saw this technology applied to motorcycle and auto racing helmets, and then to bicycle helmets.  It eventually made its way into rock climbing helmets, and from there into the world of construction helmets.
KASK Super Plasma Helmet interior view - ANSI type II protection.
Note the two layers of padding:  both Styrofoam and a fabric covered foam cushion.

Conventional hard hat with 4-point chin strap
Although you can buy accessory chin straps for cheap hard-hats, the chin straps don't always stay attached, they are difficult to find and buy, and they frequently cost more than the hard-hat itself.  In the theatre and show production industry we seem to spend a lot of time either bent over (hold the jokes please . . .) or working at height.  Both of these work situations demand that your PPE remain secured to your person.  You don't want you hard-hat falling into the scenery that you are painting, and you don't want it to fall from the truss or catwalk you are working upon.  Either way, when your hard-hat departs your head you are exposing yourself to injury AND you may be exposing the inattentive and unwilling participant below you to the full impact of your helmet on their head.  Hopefully, they are wearing some head protection, too!

Single chin strap accessory
So, if you drop you helmet to the stage floor below, will it damage it?  Yes, it will.  The next stop for that hard-hat is the dumpster.  You probably can't see the micro-fractures that impact set-up in the plastic, but I'd never trust the helmet to protect my brains again.  So, for a $5 big-box ANSI type I hard-hat, this is no big deal, but when you start wearing a $85-$150 ANSI type II hardhat, then protecting your investment (both your PPE and your brains) is a bit more of a concern.
KASK Super Plasma - ANSI type II protection

Myth:  Rock climbing helmets aren't OSHA compliant.  Any helmet that meets the ANSI/ISEA Z89.1-2009 or 2014 standard is acceptable.  It may not look like Bubba's typical construction site hard-hat, but if it meets the standard and is labelled as such, then it's legal.

So, what can yo do to keep a cool head and be stylin' on truss?  Get one of those really protective and 'I'm a professional' looking ANSI type II helmets and wear it!  The two most popular climbing helmets are the Petzl Verex Best and the KASK Super Plasma.  Bright colors are recommended.  If you need to black it out for a show (common for truss follow spotlight operators), just have your costume department sew-up a black spandex cover for it.

Bottom line:  Unless your want your brains to become Zombie food, protect them.  No replacement parts are currently available.

There is no shame in protecting your brain!

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