The Past & Future of Personal Protective Equipment
Weve seen a standard issue high visibility jacket. Weve worn the compulsory white hard hat too. But did you ever wonder where these lifesaving materials originated? Well put your personal protective time jacket on as we dive into the history of some of the most used equipment in the highways industry. Then well take a U turn and go forward in time to see the new innovations hitting the PPE world of tomorrow.
This first ever hard hat can be sourced back to early ship building yards where workers would cover their hats with tar and let them set in the sun to cure and harden. The improvised result was something that would protect them from objects such as hammers wrenches and materials being accidently dropped from upper deck. And the beaks of birds..
Of course back then it was not compulsory to wear any type of PPE if anything were to drop on your head and you didnt have one of these improvised tar hats well tough luck!
It was only in 1912 that writer Franz Kafka of Austrian/Hungarian decent developed the first civilian hard hat when he worked at an insurance firm. Another rendition of the hat called a Hard Boiled Hat (see below) was developed when the owner of a mining equipment company son returned from war with a steel helmet which inspired the man to use this concept to improve industrial safety. By 1933 one of the first construction sites that required its workers to wear such a hat popped up this was the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
The materials used to forge hard hats have evolved from tar over the last hundred years:
Aluminium 1938 (except electrical work can you imagine?)
crylonitrile – Butadiene – Styrene (ABS) 1970s
High-density polyethylene 1980s
Wearing of helmets on construction site becomes mandatory – 1989
. JSP Reflective Helmet – 2013
The history of protective eyewear runs back to its inventor P. Johnson who in 1880 put two layers of semi-opaque cloth together to reduce intense light firemen furnace-men and others would encounter every day but did not offer impact protection.
Poor Englishman John Crane Woods entered the scene shortly after to improve safety; he was on the right lines
when he thought of laminating glass together. However his combination of highly flammable cellulose nitrate bonded with Canada turpentine (resin of a fir tree) applied to glass resulted in a sadly unsuccessful expensive and poor quality product.
It was a French chemist called Edouard Benedictus who swooped in and changed the failed Englishmans formula in 1910. He swapped out the Canada turpentine for gelatin and other adhesives to laminate glass. This same material was used during World War 1 to create those sinister gas masks (see below) that saved thousands of lives as well as military motor vehicles and aircraft.
As manufacturing and technology accelerated after World War 2 so did material innovation. Heres a timeline of events:
1940s – Manufacturers discover method for sanding safety glasses for use by construction workers and wielders.
1960s U.S Government sponsors ballistic testing of various plastics and glass for eyewear polycarbonate becomes standard eyewear material.
Unlike several other forms of PPE equipment which sprung up around the 1800s when worker safety came into the human conscious hand protection goes back to our ancestors early inventions. It is therefore not known who invented the first protective glove therefore the origins of hand protections is highly speculative.
Some experts believe that the first ever gloves were fashioned from animal skins to a mitten styled design for insulation like we see today as oven gloves or winter wear. Even today you can find native people of colder climates such as native Alaskans (see below) wearing the age old inventions their ancestors passed down.
Historians also think that after the glove was produced (most likely an accident than a conscious effort) that primitive people also discovered new uses for it including hard labour when fashioning stone tools. As early civilisations spread across the globe so did ideas such as hand protection and so naturally innovation evolved the glove. It was believed to be applied to more and more purposes and crafted from different materials including animal hides sheep skin and later from silk and assorted metals.