Golden Gate Bridge Celebrates 75 Years of Putting Safety First

Thu May 31, 2012 - West Edition
Peter Hildebrandt

During the Great Depression years, the Golden Gate Bridge construction site was America’s first designated “Hard Hat Area.”
During the Great Depression years, the Golden Gate Bridge construction site was America’s first designated “Hard Hat Area.”
During the Great Depression years, the Golden Gate Bridge construction site was America’s first designated “Hard Hat Area.” Though the Golden Gate Bridge project was not the first to use hardhats onsite, it was the first to require them and to be designated a hardhat area.

San Francisco’s world-famous construction icon has provided an orange vermillion (known officially as “International Orange”) frame for the city and its enveloping fog for the past 75 years, this April, 2012. Present at the opening and throughout construction was the PPE (personal protective equipment) company that started a trend. The Bullard Company was an important part of making the bridge worksite a hardhat-designated area. Bullard remains onsite to this day, supplying hardhats to present bridge workers and supplying the world with all sorts of critical PPE

The E.D. Bullard Company was founded by Edward Dickinson Bullard in 1898 in San Francisco, Calif., where the firm sold equipment for gold and silver miners. The firm also survived the earthquake and fire that would level much of the city eight years later.

Bullard sold carbide lamps and mining equipment to gold and copper miners. The miners used to wear a soft derby, similar to a baseball cap, according to Edward D. “Jed” Bullard, the company’s fourth-generation president and chief executive officer. It had a small, hard-leather and shellac brim.

After the founder’s son, Edward W. Bullard (1899-1963), returned from World War I, he used his experiences with Doughboy army helmets in the design of protective headgear for miners and then the entire construction industry. E.W. Bullard’s original 1919 Hard Boiled Hat was manufactured out of steamed canvas, glue, a leather brim, and black paint and included a suspension device. It was considered the first "hard hat," which revolutionized construction and mine worker safety.

During the Great Depression years, the Golden Gate Bridge construction site was America’s first designated “Hard Hat Area.” The project’s chief engineer, Joseph B. Strauss, shared a vision with Bullard that the bridge construction site could be a safer environment for the worker. Falling rivets, which could cause serious injury, were a grave concern, so Bullard transformed the mining helmet into a durable industrial hard hat.

The project faced a second problem with the steel coming by train from Bethlehem, Pa. The steel had oxidized and needed to be sand-blasted before being painted. Bullard designed a simple sand-blast respirator helmet, which consisted of a hard hat with a bag over it. There was a window in front to see through, and fresh air was pumped into it.

Today, the Golden Gate Bridge still protects its workers with Bullard hard hats as well as innovative safety products (including hard hats, respiratory protection, fire and rescue helmets, and thermal imaging cameras). Bullard’s worldwide headquarters is in Cynthiana, Ky.

In 1919 the “hard-boiled” hardhat — made from steamed canvas, glue and black paint — was patented. These were constructed from canvas, glue and black paint. In 1938, Bullard invented the first aluminum hardhat. Marketing Manager, Wells Bullard’s great-grandfather was a doughboy in World War I where he wore a helmet. He figured miners could use the same protection he’d had during the war. Prior to that, he’d been involved in selling such equipment as carbide lamps for Nevada’s gold and silver miners. Bullard had started the company as a distribution company. Wells Bullard’s father is currently the chairman of the board of the company and Eric Pasch serves as CEO.

“When my great-grandfather came back he realized that there could probably be some greater safety in the mines,” explained Wells Bullard. “He saw that they were encountering many of the same hazards he was during the war. He developed one of the earliest the commercially-sold hard hats. He was an amazing inventor.”

Joseph Strauss, chief engineer on the Golden Gate Bridge project, knew Bullard’s great-grandfather and shared his passion for safety. Strauss made the site the first construction to require the use of hardhats. Falling rivets were a big concern. The bridge workers all wore Bullard hardhats. The hats are still worn to this day, according to Bullard. It is the company’s longest standing customer for the hats.

As the project began, steel for the bridge had been transported all the way from Pennsylvania. It arrived at the jobsite coated with rust, oxidation sustained during the trip west. Because the steel for the bridge had to be painted, it was first going to have to be sand-blasted free of the rust in order to be painted. The bridge workers were only wearing hardhats and black singlets;

Strauss realized that the inhaling of the particles during the steel-cleaning operations could also be a safety hazard. He had Bullard design the company’s first respirator. Bullard took the hardhat, placed something of a bag over it, put a window on it and then fresh air on the bridge was pumped in under the bag to protect the workers.

“To my knowledge, the hardhats and the respirators on the job did what they were designed to do and no workers were injured from falling rivets or from inhaling the material being removed from the oxidized steel,” added Bullard. “The compressed air was already being used on the bridge for other tasks so it was already in place; it worked well for breathing air as well.”

Though the Golden Gate Bridge project was not the first to use hardhats onsite, it was the first to require them and to be designated a hardhat area. After the use of canvas and aluminum, in the 1940s hardhats came to be made from fiberglass. In the 1950s were the first plastic hardhats. In the 1960s and 1970s plastics became better and this material was commonplace for use in the hats. OSHA regulations went into place in 1971 with more coming on line throughout the rest of the decade.

“One of the things I’m the most proud of is the fact that we were a safety company before safety was on everyone’s mind,” said Bullard. “Now everyone has to think about safety because they are worried about liability. Our company was worried about safety in 1898. My family was obviously thinking about protecting workers and hazardous environments even before it was in vogue.

“Joseph Strauss didn’t have to have hardhats on his bridge project; he didn’t have to think that way in terms of protecting his workers. But he did in partnering with my great-grandfather. That is a great story.”

Bullard has now moved beyond the hardhats and respiratory equipment to make fire and rescue helmets as well; we’ve done that since the 1930s. Starting in 1998 they branched out into thermal imaging for the fire service. Bullard actually makes thermal protection cameras for the fire service which helps to find victims and helps firefighters to find the exit to get out of the burning building as well as to find hot spots for re-kindling.

Bullard’s PowerAir purifying respirators allow users to carry the filter on their waist. At the waist is the machine containing the blower, air pumps through it, the air is filtered before going to the hood where the breathing of clean air takes place.

After hard hats made from aluminum and fiberglass, plastic became the standard material used in their construction. Bullard was one of the first manufacturers to inject thermoplastic into a mold to produce a hard hat. In 1982, the standard hard hat changed again. The director of safety at Bechtel Corporation, one of Bullard’s major clients, felt that hard hats didn’t have the proper suspension for field work. In response, Bullard introduced a revolutionary new industrial helmet, marking the beginning of a new era in head protection safety and standards.

The new design incorporated a non-slip ratchet-suspension with a knob in the back for simple sizing. Within the industry, the hat became known as the “3000 R.” The 3000 R was produced from polyethylene plastic, making it lightweight, durable, easy to mold and non-conductive to electricity. The plastic was treated with an ultra-violet inhibitor which helped the hats weather the outdoor environment.

Bullard redesigned the 3000R and introduced the C30 presenting a significant advancement in worker comfort. Enhanced with an upgraded suspension system, the C30 incorporates easy-lock snaps for simple installation, an improved FlexGear for easy height adjustment, and an enhanced brow pad. Offer the most advanced comfort in the market, the C30 has become known as today’s standard yellow hard hat.

Unprecedented changes have occurred in the last ten years. “A great deal of our knowledge comes from designing firefighter helmets,” said Bullard. “We’ve been able to apply research on applied energy absorption to the industrial setting.”

From that knowledge, the Advent and Vector evolved. At 25 ounces (709 g) the Advent is half the weight of conventional firefighter helmets and is, in fact, the same weight as many climbing helmets. The Advent is the only protective helmet designed specifically for emergency response services.

The compact design is unique. “Not having a rear brim improves freedom of movement both in and out of emergency vehicles and confined spaces,” said Bullard. “A crown pad, and a soft, replaceable, foam-backed vinyl brow pad provide extra comfort. It costs less than half the price of conventional fire helmets, and can be equipped with a variety of accessories, including face shields, ear/neck protectors, hearing protectors and attachments for lamps.”

The Vector is the off shoot of the Advent. “The Vector provides impact protection for the top, front, back and side of the head,” said Bullard. “It uses a full inner shock liner to absorb impacts.” The Advent can come with a brow pad, comfortable suspension, built-in goggle strap and retaining slots. The Vector, along with the Advent, became the first caps to meet the newest ANSI standard for industrial head protection.

After gathering input from end-users in the field, Bullard designed the vented hard hat, known as the S62. “The standard complaint we heard about hard hats was that they’re too hot,” said Bullard. “With this in mind, we went to work and came up with a hat that will help keep workers cool. This hat features a vented shell; the S62 allows air to flow inside the hard hat, keeping the user cool and comfortable while providing quality protection.”

In 1972, the Company moved its production operations from Sausalito, Calif., to Cynthiana, Ky., for improved transportation costs and a more accessible workforce. Within 20 years the company headquarters moved to Kentucky as well.

Though prior to construction of the Golden Gate Bridge there was some local area debate about the wisdom of a building a bridge at the Golden Gate Strait — especially from the area’s local ferry boat operators. But the use of hardhats at this challenging work site and hundreds of others ever since has probably never been questioned. Head protection has always been an idea whose time has come.

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