Wells Bullard loves to see something most people would never think twice about: construction crews wearing their hard hats while they eat lunch. For Wells, vice president of personal protective equipment manufacturer Bullard, that’s proof that the company’s hard hats aren’t uncomfortable.
As Wells says, “personal protective equipment is only effective when it’s worn, and people only want to wear it when it’s comfortable,” Wells says.
For nearly 120 years, Bullard has been developing safety equipment that’s more comfortable and less burdensome, thus more effective, the company says. This year Bullard added two new products to its collection: a clear-brimmed hard hat for the industrial market and a fire helmet with retractable visor for the emergency responders.
A clear brim for clear sight
Climbing a ladder and not being able to see above you can be really disorienting. But that happens all the time to people wearing hard hats. The brim of the hard hat, meant to protect users, actually blocks their sight, and if they tip their head back to look up, they expose themselves to the risk of falling debris, defeating the purpose of the hard hat all together.
“If the person’s not willing to wear the equipment, the equipment has no chance to protect them, and if you’re taking your hard hat off to rub your temple because it’s uncomfortable or because it’s affecting your ability to see your surroundings, you could be doing that at the moment when a hazard could fall,” Wells says.
“We try to spend as much time as we can listening to our customers, listening to people who are actually wearing the products and depending on us to design and manufacture products that will keep them safe in these otherwise potentially very dangerous environments.”
Thanks to Bullard’s new AboveView™ hard hat, that doesn’t have to be the case.
Bullard worked with National Oilwell Varco (NOV), which provides equipment and components to the oil and gas industry, to develop a hard hat with a clear brim. Unlike opaque brims, the clear brim doesn’t block a wearer’s line of sight.
“We try to spend as much time as we can listening to our customers, listening to people who are actually wearing the products and depending on us to design and manufacture products that will keep them safe in these otherwise potentially very dangerous environments,” Wells says.
NOV provided feedback on design, prototypes and materials selections so Bullard’s designers and engineers would see the value in, for instance, tinting the visor for different conditions. Grey was best for the shade, clear for greatest visibility and yellow to prevent sun glare. No matter conditions, scratches would make the clear visors pointless, so the visors were developed to be replaceable, Well says.
Protecting Golden Gate Bridge construction crews
This approach certainly isn’t new to Bullard. The company says it has been listening to customers and observing users for five generations.
In 1919, E.W. Bullard returned from the trenches of World War I to California, where his father, E.D. Bullard, had been distributing supplies to gold and silver miners in California and Nevada since 1898.
E.D. Bullard noticed the miners faced many of the same hazards troops in the trenches had faced. He thought the miners, like the troops, would benefit from helmets but couldn’t afford metal helmets like those worn on the battlefields. Instead, E.D. Bullard designed a double-layer canvas cap with an internal suspension system and a leather brim. The first commercially sold hard hat, the Hard-Boiled® Hard Hat, was born.
In the 1930s, the Golden Gate Bridge became the first construction site to require the use of hard hats. Bullard supplied all of them.
During construction, crews had to sandblast steel that had traveled by ship from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, around South America’s Cape Horn, and rusted in transit. The bridge’s chief engineer, Joseph B. Strauss, didn’t want his crews inhaling all of the sandblasting dust, so he enlisted Bullard’s help.
E.D. Bullard rigged a piece of canvas over his hard hats, cut a hole for visibility and used a piece of glass to create a window. Then he used the compressed air that powered the sandblasters to provide clean air for users to breathe. The first abrasive blasting respirator was born, and Bullard still continues to protect blasters today—though the modern-day GenVX® blast helmet now features a lightweight, durable design and vortex cool tubes that cool the clean air as it’s piped in, Wells says.
Fitting more faces
In addition to hard hats and respiratory protection products, Bullard manufactures thermal imaging cameras and fire helmets. This year it added a new product to that category: ReTrak fire helmets with retractable face protection.
“Retractable visors on fire helmets have been available around the world for many years, but ours can fit more faces. It has a pretty interesting design that allows it to accommodate more face shapes and sizes, people wearing glasses, things like that.”
“Retractable visors on fire helmets have been available around the world for many years, but ours can fit more faces,” Wells says. “It has a pretty interesting design that allows it to accommodate more face shapes and sizes, people wearing glasses, things like that.”
This new Bullard product is designed with a two-stage pivot that allows the visor to extend out before it drops down. That allows the visor to curve and makes it a better fit for a range of users.
Bullard also made it easy for the visor to be replaced or cleaned. The latter is important in the firefighting industry, as more evidence begins to show a correlation between chemical exposure during fires and higher rates of cancer in firefighters.
“There are solutions in the market, so our task was to make ours even better, to make it even more accommodating to more people and easier to remove for more cleaning.”
Bullard takes its job—protecting the people who protect the country’s roads, infrastructure and houses—very seriously. It wants its customers to not just get home alive, but be able to enjoy their lives and thrive.
“We’ve got customers who are very tough on products,” Wells says, “which really makes us better and better all the time.”
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