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The Evolution of Head Protection: Safety Helmets vs. Hard Hats


In the fast-paced world of construction and industrial work, the importance of head protection cannot be overstated. Over the last five years, the demand for safety helmets and helmets has escalated. With contractors now mandating the use of this protective gear, the safety landscape is undergoing a significant transformation. Malta Dynamics, a reputable manufacturer of safety products since 2015, is committed to creating a product that not only enhances protection but also meets budget constraints reflecting the growing emphasis on worker safety.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has played a pivotal role in endorsing the switch from traditional hard hats to modern safety helmets. In a move aimed at better protection for employees during inspection sites, OSHA announced the replacement of conventional headgear with more advanced safety helmets. This decision was fueled by the alarming statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, revealing that head injuries accounted for nearly 6 percent of nonfatal occupational injuries in 2020.

Traditional hard hats in the construction industry, dating back to the 1960s, before OSHA regulations, primarily protect the top of a wearer’s head but lack adequate protection for side impacts and chin straps. The absence of chin straps makes them susceptible to falling off in the event of slips or trips, leaving workers vulnerable. Furthermore, traditional hard hats often lack ventilation, trapping heat inside. Recognizing these limitations, OSHA published a Safety and Health Information Bulletin on November 22, 2023, highlighting the key differences between traditional hard hats and modern safety helmets.

LEARN MORE: Occupational Safety and Health Administration

The classification system, particularly ANSI Z89.1, becomes crucial when considering head protection. Traditional hard hats are often Type 1 devices, focusing on top impact protection, while helmets, typically ANSI type II, undergo testing on the top, sides, front, and rear impacts, along with chin strap testing. Malta Dynamics contributes to this evolution by manufacturing hard hats with polyethylene and Type 2 helmets with ABS plastic, offering different levels of protection, functionality, and durable materials.


Key Differences: 

Understanding the fundamental differences between hard hats and safety helmets is important, particularly when evaluating their efficacy in safeguarding against various hazards. Things such as impact protection, the presence (or absence) of chin straps, the degree of ventilation provided, as well as the materials and construction methods employed, allow for an understanding of their suitability in occupational settings. By understanding these factors, employers can make informed decisions regarding the optimal head protection gear to ensure the safety and well-being of their workforce.

Impact Protection:

  • Hard Hats (Type 1): Primarily protect against top impacts.
  • Safety Helmets (ANSI Type II): Tested for impacts on top, sides, front, rear, and chin, providing superior overall protection.

Chin Straps:

  • Hard Hats: Often lack chin straps, increasing the risk of falling off during slips or trips.
  • Safety Helmets: Equipped with chin straps to prevent them from becoming a falling object if removed from a worker’s head during impact. By remaining on the worker’s head, safety helmets protect in secondary impact events as well.


  • Hard Hats: Typically lack ventilation, trapping heat inside.
  • Safety Helmets: Designed with ventilation to enhance comfort for the wearer.

Accessories and Customization:

  • Hard Hats: Limited accessory options.
  • Safety Helmets: Offer a modular experience with integrated eye protection, face shields, earmuffs, and headlamp keepers, allowing for customization based on user needs.


  • Hard Hats: Provide standard coverage for the top of the head.
  • Safety Helmets: Offer extended coverage, especially with full-brim designs, protecting against falling debris, rain, and sunlight.

Regulatory Compliance:

  • Hard Hats: Generally comply with basic safety standards.
  • Safety Helmets: Meet ANSI Z89.1 Type II standards, emphasizing enhanced safety features and testing criteria.

Switching to safety helmets presents several advantages over traditional hard hats. The ANSI Z89.1 Type 2 designation ensures superior impact protection, with chin straps preventing the helmet from becoming a projectile in secondary impact events, and some even include ear protection.

Helmets also boast a more lightweight construction, accommodating additional interior components that enhance protection. The rise in popularity of helmets has spurred manufacturers to introduce cutting-edge accessories, such as integrated eye protection, face shields, earmuffs, and headlamp keepers, providing a modular and customizable experience for users.

Traditionally, hard hats have been synonymous with construction sites, providing essential protection to workers’ heads. However, the evolution of head protection has given rise to the ANSI Type 2 specification, particularly in the form of full-brim hard hats. Malta Dynamics has built upon the foundation of traditional hard hats and introduced significant advancements with a Type 2 Full Brim Hard Hat, released this year. What sets the full brim style apart is its extended brim, providing additional shielding against falling debris, rain, and sunlight. This design not only enhances safety but also addresses the need for sun protection, which is often a concern in various work environments. Workers can experience the benefits of a traditional hard hat with the added advantages of improved impact resistance and enhanced coverage.

Understanding and adhering to company or general contractor guidelines is crucial when deciding between helmets and hard hats. Many large contractors have transitioned from suggesting to requiring the use of ANSI Z89.1 Type 2 helmets, emphasizing the need for workers to be well informed to avoid policy violations. It’s evident that Type 2 helmets offer enhanced safety in real-world hazard scenarios, but considerations such as cost, electrical ratings, and sun protection should be weighed against specific needs and expectations.

The evolution of head protection from traditional hard hats to safety helmets signifies a positive shift towards enhanced workplace safety. As the industry continues to prioritize the well-being of workers, decisions regarding head protection should be made with careful consideration of the gear’s limitations, consultation with safety professionals, and a commitment to ensuring the safety of every worker, every day.

Article reviewed 01/08/2024:

Greg Brown

President of Malta Dynamics

About the Reviewer:

Greg Brown has a diverse background, having worked in various industries such as utilities/communication, oilfield, and manufacturing. In 2018, he embarked on a mission to serve these industries by offering innovative safety products. Over the years, Greg has traveled extensively, visiting numerous sites and engaging with thousands of dedicated individuals to promote safety. Malta Dynamics takes a unique approach to safety, with a close-knit family of construction and manufacturing workers, providing Field Tested, Field Approved solutions to ensure the well-being of workers.


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