Robert Österdahl: Stepped Up to Guide New Brain-Protecting Hardhat
When Robert Österdahl, COO and health and safety director at Södertörn Construction Group AB, Skogås, Sweden, heard his safety equipment supplier was developing a hardhat with brain-protecting technology, he offered to help them get it right. “We volunteered to be in the project to ensure that the end-user perspective was covered,” he says.
Södertörn self-performs in many trades, and with its help, last summer MIPS Corp., a Swedish company with a brain-protecting helmet-liner system, and Guardio Safety AB, a Swedish industrial safety firm, partnered to release in Europe a hardhat designed to mitigate brain damage often suffered in construction falls.
The ARMET helmet’s liner has a low-friction layer that lets it slide up to 15 millimeters in all directions on impact. This reduces the wrenching forces that can stretch and tear nerve connections in brain tissue and cause traumatic brain injury or death.
Guardio says the helmet is the first construction helmet with the MIPS brain- protecting system, which is used in some sports helmets. Guardio cites U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data that assert that construction has the greatest number of fatal and nonfatal traumatic brain injuries among U.S. workplaces, and that from 2003 to 2010, 25% of all construction fatalities were caused by TBI.
Österdahl says he had heard of the MIPS system and knew that ski helmets with it are highly recommended by Swedish insurance firms, so when he heard Guardio was planning to develop the first safety helmet incorporating the system, “we wanted to be there from the start and help it develop something that really will make a difference when it comes to work safety.”
Södertörn workers who tested designs made it clear that in addition to protecting brains, the helmets needed to be comfortable as well. Hearing protection was another consideration, Österdahl says, and the end product has holders for headsets that work not only with protectors offered by Guardio, but other suppliers as well. “After some iterations we now have a solution our workers are really happy with,” he says.
Södertörn workers wearing the helmets have escaped head injuries in two accidents so far. One fell off a scaffold and landed on his side and head, and another was struck on the head by a large rock discharged by an auger. “It’s hard to prove it was the helmet, but it could have been a lot worse,” Österdahl says.
Rachel Connor, chief enthusiast with the Association of Equipment Management Professionals, says her members are interested in advancing hardhat protection. She says Guardio brought several of its hardhats to the group’s conference in Kansas City in September. “These guys were just swarmed,” she says. “Members had lots of questions for them and really wanted to know when was it going to become available [in the U.S.].”
A Guardio spokesman says it is in talks with distributors and hopes to begin offering the helmets in the U.S. soon. The suggested retail price will be $98.