It’s easy to think of head injuries as catastrophic, and they certainly can be. It’s also easy to think of hard hats as the only head injury prevention solution, and they certainly do provide essential protection.

But let’s go a little deeper. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 40,000 injuries to the head result in at least one day away from work every year in the private sector. Of those, a mere six percent occur in construction, where hard hats are most likely being worn.

Meanwhile, the manufacturing sector — where workers may or may not be wearing hard hats — accounts for roughly ten percent of head injuries. Transportation and warehousing make up another 9 percent. And those folks are likely not wearing hard hats. All told, that’s more than three times the amount of head injuries than construction.

Does that mean they should all be wearing hard hats? Probably not.

Object-generated impact vs. worker-generated impact

Hard hats are designed to protect from “object-generated impact,” which involves an object falling onto the worker. That’s in contrast to “worker-generated impact,” where the worker initiates the contact.

The injury might not be catastrophic but could still get ugly and expensive — a National Institute of Health study put the average cost of an emergency room visit at $1,200.

And where are these injuries from worker-generated impacts likely to occur? Industries like manufacturing, warehousing, transportation and other services where workers often find themselves maneuvering in tight spaces. Thankfully, these folks have alternative head protection options to combat nasty dings to the dome.

The bump cap

Typically built around a padded, impact-resistant plastic shell, the bump cap is less obtrusive than a hard hat, looks like a basic ball cap, and is designed to provide comfortable, lightweight protection against worker-generated impact.

Who should wear a bump cap?

Basically, anybody working in tight, confined spaces where hard hats are not required should wear a bump camp. While hard hats are ideal for working in open construction situations where falling debris and/or tools are a common hazard, they can become annoying hindrances to those working in tight quarters, such as crawl spaces or under sinks. In those conditions where you’re navigating beneath overhead plumbing, low ceilings and hanging hazards, you’re more likely to bump your head than get struck by a falling brick.

While worker-generated impacts may seem less severe than object-generated impacts, they can lead to some gruesome gashes, concussions and as mentioned above, no small medical expense.

Bump cap applications include:

  • Mechanics
  • Airline workers
  • In-home service employees
  • Weekend workshoppers

What to look for in a bump cap:

  • Impact and puncture resistance
  • Strategic venting to avoid overheating
  • Lightweight shell with padded foam for comfort
  • Brim length options; “micro” brims have become increasingly popular
  • Hands-free LED lighting offers a “bump” in utility

Because bump caps are tested to a different standard than hard hats, they should never be used where hard hats are required. The only bump cap standard in the world right now is the European standard: EN 812: 2012.

Universal bump cap inserts

As the term implies, bump cap inserts can be placed inside any regular baseball cap, essentially turning your favorite hat into head protection. Many times, workers (like cable/dish technicians, for example) are already wearing hats – either their own or as part of a uniform. Inserts are a low-cost, unobtrusive way to offer a level of protection against the bumps, scrapes and bruises they’re guaranteed to initiate themselves from time to time.

Just like traditional bump caps, there’s a wide a variance in fit, comfort and performance, so take the time to compare your options. Ideally, the insert is designed with a lightweight, breathable, flexible shell and a customizable trim feature to accommodate all styles of caps – low or high-profile—so that it’s truly universal.

Use your head

Ultimately, the decision to opt for a hard hat or bump cap comes down to the nature of each individual working environment and assessing the overall risk of head injury can be unique to every situation.

The most up-to-date Bureau of Labor Statistics data determined that head and neck injuries account for the third most common work-related emergency room visits and can often have the potential to be the most life-threatening of injuries. Combine that with the fact head injuries can be the most debilitating and costly workplace injuries — both in terms of actual care and rehabilitation costs and compensation — and the scope and necessity of proper head protection becomes abundantly clear.