Why Yellow Is Old Hat On Building Sites

Bob the Builder needs a makeover – and for once, you really can blame health and safety rules. The cartoon character’s traditional yellow hard hat – a symbol of building sites across the country – is being quietly dropped. According to news reports, BuildUK – an industry body that represents some of the biggest contractors and trade associations in the UK – have created a new colour-coded scheme for hats, and yellow doesn’t make the cut.


From 2017, the Highways Agency, for instance, will insist that all staff working on motorways and A-roads wear hats coloured in correlation to their job position. Supervisors will be in black, slingers and signallers will wear orange, and site managers and “competent operatives” – like Bob – should be wearing a white hat (much like his safety-conscious counterpart, the Village People’s David Hodo). Visitors, meanwhile, will wear blue. Happy days for photo-opp friendly Tory politicians such as George Osborne, who love a high-vis jacket and a builder’s hat.

Alison Rodgers from the Construction Industry Training Board, says few builders – apart from Bob – would mourn yellow hats because white ones were more ubiquitous in real life. The health and safety strategy manager says the new scheme was helpful for the co-ordination and communication needed to reduce dangers on a building site; for instance, she says, you can see at a glance those in blue hats “might not know about the hazards and risks”. And the visual clues would be particularly helpful in workplaces that were a multicultural society, or where workers might have literacy issues.

Hard hats have been compulsory on British building sites since 1990; rumours persist that Franz Kafka developed the first hard hat while working at an insurance company in 1912. Several hard-hat companies, however, have more prosaic claims to creating the safety wear. According to Building magazine, US manufacturer Bullard created hard hats for miners at the end of the 19th century, with their “hard-boiled hat” made of canvas and glue, shaped on a mould and steamed. The first time construction workers were able to use them was during the creation of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge in the 1930s. Meanwhile, the British manufacturer Centurion says it has, in fact, been making hard hats – adopting the design of the army pith helmets – since the 19th century.

Fashion historian Amber Butchart, meanwhile, thinks the bowler hat is the first incarnation of the hard hat – commissioned by royal milliner Locke and Co, and created by Thomas and William Bowler in 1850 for Norfolk farmers. The idea was that they were designed to protect gamekeeper’s heads from branches as they rode around country estates.

Elsewhere, online, the “hard hat challenge” has gone viral: this is less a trend to do with hierarchical colour coding and more about builders filming themselves using a shovel to launch a hat into their air and on to their head. Or more often, on to their face. Bob would not approve.

The Original article can be found HERE on the Guardian Website