Mimicking the function of protective fluid around the brain could boost the performance of most construction hard hats.
Inadequate safety procedures on construction sites can be dangerous at best and fatal at worst, especially when they cause head injuries.
But safety helmet and head protection specialist Mips believes it has the key to reducing the severity of head injuries on site.
The company has more than 20 years of personal protective equipment (PPE) research and product development experience which it is now bringing to the construction sector.
Mips – which stands for multi-directional impact protection system – promises to provide protection in all types of impact situations, whether it’s a fall incident or impact from a falling object. Injury data shows that most impacts to the head occur at an angle, which can introduce rotational motion.
Rotational motion is a combination of rotational energy (angular velocity) and rotational forces from angular acceleration and can occur in a fall or when a falling object strikes someone’s head.
This can cause shearing and stretching of brain tissue, which increases the risk of brain injuries from impact.
Most conventional hard hats use a foam liner to reduce impact shock, but this is not always enough to protect against concussion and serious brain injuries that are commonly caused by rotational motion of the brain.
Hard hat insert
The Mips safety system consists of a polycarb onate layer which a PPE manufacturer can insert into the hard hat, usually between the comfort padding and the foam protective layer.
There are different Mips systems to fit varying types of hard hats but all feature this low friction layer which allows 10mm to 15mm of relative motion between the head and hard hat following certain angled impacts.
The product has been designed to help absorb rotational force to the head and promises improved protection compared to conventional hard hats.
Mips co-founder Peter Halldin says the product imitates the safety system within the human head, where the brain is cushioned by cerebrospinal fluid.
“We are trying to lower the coefficient of friction between the helmet and the head in the same way that the cerebrospinal fluid will lower the coefficient of friction between the brain and the skeleton,” he says.
Similar to the brain’s protection system, Mips enables a relative motion between the head and the hard hat.
“When we impact the surface, it’s like we’re mimicking a fall on an icy surface, so you just slide away in the direction that you’re supposed to go instead of grabbing into the ground on impact. That’s why we tried to get as low coefficient of friction as possible between the head and the helmet,” Halldin explains.
The Mips safety system typically weighs between 24g to 45g, so does not add a significant weight to standard construction hard hats. A hard hat with a chin strap is required to ensure the system provides adequate protection in the event of an accident.
“The chin strap is a very important feature on the helmet. It’s important [that PPE firms] design this part of the helmet so that the user wants to attach it and that they attach it in the right way, because otherwise it will just hang there and will not do its job,” says Halldin.
Mips is already popular in the recreational and professional sports market among skiers and cyclists. The company’s foray into the construction market has led to a partnership with PPE manufacturer Guardio in 2019 when it launched the Mips product in Sweden.
“There are no bad helmets, but we can try to understand how we can make helmets even better. We have done a lot of work digging into accident statistics, really trying to understand the things causing head and brain injuries from construction site accidents,” says Halldin.
Every Mips hard hat on the market is developed with the manufacturer and tested in the company’s test centre in Sweden to ensure the required safety standards are met.
The firm launched the product in the UK market earlier this year, in partnership with with PPE manufacturer Centurion.
“We are delighted to have Centurion on board… we hope to have other helmet companies on board as well in the future,” Halldin says.
He adds the firm is also committed to continued testing and development, including a collaboration with the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm to further improve the level of protection.
“We are not finished with this work. We are continuing with trying to understand more about falling accidents and how to further improve the head protection,” he says.
Halldin admits that future development of the product depends on feedback and data from end users.
“I know the number of people getting injured per year and what kind of injuries they report, but we have no information on how many people that have used the helmet” he says.
“We have no real information on the real impact directions and impact. It’s a lot of guessing, but we need to do the best guess we can with the data that we have. The way to develop the product further is to understand the real accident situation. I’m sure that we will have more knowledge and information that could be put into the test methods that we’re using and that will be used to design better products.
“The thing we know now is that rotation is something that we can help to reduce in a construction site helmet today. And that is what we have done.”
Halldin also acknowledges that more work must be done across the construction industry to ensure hard hats are worn correctly. Failing to attach the chin strap properly, for example, could render the Mips safety system ineffective.
“From Mips’ side, we take this very seriously. If we can do something [to ensure workers wear PPE correctly] then we should, of course, do it. Either you can have something that will force people to attach it… or we need to educate people and we need to have people responsible at the construction site to demand that you use the safety equipment in the way that it should be used,” he says. “It’s all about education and making people aware.”
For Mips, like all other PPE solutions on the market, the product itself is only part of the equation. It is clear that getting buy-in from end users will be essential to raise the bar for head protection on site.