New hard hats made in Wilsonville could be safety breakthrough

Published: Jun. 21, 2022 at 5:53 PM PDT
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WILSONVILLE, Ore. (KPTV) - Coming out of a production facility in Wilsonville, liners made with a new material could change the standard for hard hats in the construction industry.

The idea for the company WaveCel is to make a safer hard hat that workers will want to use. Co-founders Dr. Steven Madey and Michael Bottlang have been studying for the last 15 years, both with research and in a testing lab, to find out what causes the most damage to the brain.

“If you hit (the head) with a hammer and the skull spins a little bit, kind of like a washing machine, the walls rotate around the brain and starts to sheer the brain,” Madey said.

That’s where the new hard hat liner comes in.

WaveCel designed the material that is meant to move with the brain in case it is hit. It prevents the rotation the founders said is responsible for most traumatic brain injuries.

“You have literally a 360-degree dome, or liner, that protects you as much from side impacts than from crown impacts,” Bottlang said.

The founders wanted to find out what was causing the high number of brain injuries in construction workers who already wear a helmet.

“We saw a discrepancy between how things are tested and how the brain is getting injured,” Bottlang said. “It was years of developing tests that are more representative of real-world accidents.”

Testing was done at a Legacy Health lab to design the material for the most common injuries.

Andrew Oldknow, who also is working on the design with Industrial Solutions Global, said 68% of head injuries in construction are because of impacts to the side of the head. The majority are not because of a falling object, which is what traditional hard hats protect from.

“Almost 70% of the people slip on oil or trip over a piece of rebar or fall out of something that’s at height,” he said. “So that was the biggest issue.”

Industrial Solutions Global designed the rest of the helmet around the liner.

Oldknow said he’s already seen interest from those in the industry for the hard hat’s new features.

“We always heard full brim hard hats are the best look,” he said. “They liked low profile. They didn’t like the fact that most hard hats sit really high on your head.”

The helmets officially launch for customers at a conference in Chicago next Monday.

WaveCel is optimistic it can quickly ascend in the market, but as of now is proud the new business is getting its start in Oregon.

“Being local and having a team that can create those helmets and manufacture them in the U.S. and ship them out is very satisfying,” Bottlang said.