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Virginia Tech's Helmet Lab launches new study on safety helmets for construction workers

Steve Rowson, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Virginia Tech, directs the university's Helmet Lab. He's pointing to one of the safety helmets his team will be evaluating as part of a new study.
Roxy Todd
/
Radio IQ
Steve Rowson, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Virginia Tech, directs the university's Helmet Lab. He's pointing to one of the safety helmets his team will be evaluating as part of a new study.

Virginia Tech’s Helmet Lab is launching a new study to rate safety helmets for construction workers.

Last year, the federal government recommended construction workers wear safety helmets instead of traditional hard hats. One reason is because hard hats typically don’t have chin straps and often slip off when workers fall.

But there’s not much research about which safety helmets provide the most protection. So, Virginia Tech’s Helmet Lab is launching a new study in partnership with organizations that represent the construction industry, including the John R. Gentille Foundation, ELECTRI International, the American Society of Concrete Contractors and the Association of Union Constructors.

“It’s objective data to empower contractors around the country to make informed purchasing decisions without risk for bias,” said Raffi Elchemmas, Executive Director of safety, health, and risk management with the Mechanical Contractors Association of America, another one of the study's partners. He said construction workers face the most serious injuries from falls or being hit with objects.

Steve Rowson, who directs the Helmet Lab, said his team will be studying how well each helmet buffers against these injuries.

“Having that little bit of energy absorption inside could be the difference between life and death, or serious debilitating injury and walking away from it,” Rowson said.

This is the first time Virginia Tech’s Helmet Lab has looked at helmets for workers. Their previous research has been for sports and recreation helmets.

Rowson and his team will study real-world injuries in workplaces and recreate them in a lab using a dummy.

They plan to release their findings by August of 2025.

Updated: July 3, 2024 at 2:25 PM EDT
Editor's Note: Radio IQ is a service of Virginia Tech.
Roxy Todd is Radio IQ's New River Valley Bureau Chief.