Safety Starts at the Top

KASK America Inc.

When we think of head protection on construction sites, hard hats come to mind. Unchanged for decades, most are made with a rigid plastic outer shell, usually orange or yellow, with criss-crossed suspension webbing inside, keeping the shell about an inch above the top of the wearer’s head, allowing for some ventilation, and more importantly, serving as a barrier between the helmet and the skull in case a falling object strikes the user, or in case of a fall.

Costing as little as $15, cheap hard hats offer some degree of safety, yet have many issues, particularly shifting around, rendering them useless if the wearer suffers a blow to an unprotected area of the head. Realizing that construction workers deserved better, Italian-based Kask is on a mission: educating construction companies about the countless benefits of using high-quality helmets instead of hard hats.

Since founding the company in 2004, Angelo Gotti has never forgotten his passion for sports like cycling and skiing, for adventure (all activities where helmets can save lives), and simultaneously for safety.

Working for a helmet manufacturing company in his youth, Gotti channeled his passion into research, development, and starting his own business. Initially focusing on arborists and search and rescue markets, Gotti – who tests products himself for safety, comfort and design – soon realized helmets offering superior protection were lacking in the industrial world.

Turning his company’s attention to the hard hats worn on construction sites, he saw a simple hard plastic outer with internal strapping keeping the shell about an inch from the dome of the wearer’s head. This allowed for some ventilation, and gave some protection from falling objects or other forms of blows. The problem was that the hard hat easily shifted around, making it quite possible for the wearer to suffer a blow to an unprotected part of the head.

And nobody could claim that the hard hat was outstandingly comfortable.

Safety in comfort
“Safety was the priority, [shown] by the fact that every company has to support safety standards and working environments with personal protective equipment (PPE), but comfort and design were needed in this market,” says Marta Beltramello, Sales and Marketing Director Safety Division for Kask. “So Angelo Gotti started thinking of the opportunities of providing these values to people who have to wear helmets all day long – eight to ten hours a day in challenging environments where conditions like heat can be a factor.”

Investigating the construction and industrial sectors, Gotti began testing its own complete redesigns for helmets. Feedback was enthusiastic – wearers saying the products were comfortable, almost letting them forget that they were wearing a helmet and making it easier to focus on their jobs.

Inspired to invest more time and money into research and development, Gotti remained mindful that helmets needed to meet high safety standards, and be comfortable. “This was the key factor that made us a successful brand in the industrial safety market,” says Beltramello, who says safety is now the biggest line of business for the company, surpassing cycling helmets, one of the company’s best-known product lines.

Evolution of safety
Starting its safety division in Italy in 2009 with a focus on the domestic market, the company founded Kask America Inc. a year later, increasing its focus on safety products in the United States in 2013-2014. “There were so many other markets we weren’t touching, and one of them was construction,” says Beltramello of the company, which also makes hearing protectors and visors.

As a leader in Europe, Kask is pleased to bring its state-of-the-art helmets to the U.S. Innovative engineering and materials, both outside and inside are critical to all helmets. This is how Kask arrives at its unique combination of safety and design with supreme comfort.

Starting with the company four years ago, Fabio Cardarelli, North America Sales and Marketing Manager – Safety, has seen Kask quickly grow from cycling to safety helmets. He recalls his own father’s ‘outfit’ for work many years ago, which consisted simply of the worst clothes he had, with steel-toed shoes, canvas shirts, pants and PPE. That has all changed.

“Today people take pride in what they wear,” he says. “Our product fits in this [changed] mentality and saves lives better than traditional hard hats. That is the goal founder Angelo Gotti had all along, with the vision of how to make the product better, more viable, and safer.”

Surpassing all tests
Unlike run-of-the-mill hard hats, many from offshore and meeting only the bare minimum of safety standards, Kask’s helmets are unsurpassed for protection. Made in Italy under strict quality control, they are certified, and by European standards are required to undergo third-party laboratory testing, together with random tests conducted periodically on production lots.

Lightweight and durable, Kask safety helmet are beyond comparison when put up against the – often less safe – alternatives. Weighing about 350 to 450 grams (approximately 12 to 16 ounces), external shells are made from materials such as PP Polypropylene, thermoplastic polymer ABS, or Polycarbonate/ABS. Internal shells are made from HD Polystyrene or HD Polystyrene expanded, and headbands from soft and comfortable PA Nylon. Unlike most hard hats on the market, which have only a four- or six-strap nylon suspension system holding the helmet shell away from the head, Kask helmets are lined internally with Expanded Polystyrene (EPS). EPS is widely used in motorcycle helmets for its superior shock-absorption qualities and light weight.

“What differentiates us from most of the helmets you have out there — at least in the United States and Europe — is we have EPS inside the shell,” Cardarelli says. “If you have a blow or impact, that’s what absorbs the blow of the impact before it goes into your body, head or neck. It was unbelievable from our point that industrial helmets were not using this technology which was already available for other types of helmets and markets. So we brought it in, adapted it, and developed the technology for safety helmets that we thought was the natural usage of that material, EPS, for the safety industry.”

Truly cost-effective
Sold through national distributor partners, Kask safety helmets cost more than standard hard hats – and are worth every cent, since they offer superior head protection, including to the front, back and sides. With a ‘shelf life’ of about a decade, Kask helmets have been reported to last seven years or even longer in the field, providing they are not subjected to severe impact. With some cheaper products breaking-down after five years and interior suspension systems needing replacement every year, this makes the economy versions more expensive and more demanding of valuable company time in maintenance.

“With our system, [if] you need to replace anything, it comes ready to go,” says Cardarelli, “and the financial factor is on our side most of the time.” And as business becomes more environmentally conscious, many operators are preferring long-lasting Kask helmets instead of the cheap plastic versions, destined for landfill.

Safety, comfort, innovation, quality, and longevity are some of the qualities setting Kask above the competition. With about 50 staff in Europe and 20 at Kask America, the company is considering making the U.S. its second production site, but only if the same impeccable standards can be maintained.

With Kask experiencing 500 percent growth in the past three years, Cardarelli is pleased, but not surprised, since he knows just how well Kask safety helmets perform on construction sites.

“The market was just sitting there to see what could be done better, and we brought that to the market,” he says. “We did this by talking to the end user, being there in the field, and listening to customer needs, and what to do to make the product better for their workers. The relationships we have built with the companies are amazing.

“One of the words I like to use when I talk about Kask is authentic: the way you see others is the way we are, and we like to be close to the people who can make a choice about how we can be the answer for them.”

Although Kask products promote themselves because of their quality, the company still believes in getting out there, interacting with prospective and existing clients and actual end users, educating them about why Kask is better than the rest. “I work for a company where the value in the product is key to marketing, so pride is part of the education, but really the passion is in the performance of the product,” Cardarelli says. “We have been identified as a game-changer in many markets.”

The “aha!” moment
For the company, the most powerful moments come when they show clients data from The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) or OSHA – the Occupational Safety and Health Administration – about how many workers are affected or even die every year from traumatic brain injury. Most often, this results in an “Aha!” moment – the realization that lives can be made safer by investing in Kask safety helmets.

“I’m not trying to sell them a product they don’t need – they realize they need it,” says Cardarelli. “And I bet in the next few years you will see only helmets, not hard hats.” Everybody is asking for more and more, Cardarelli tells us. “Give it another year, and every other manufacturer will be making products similar to ours.”

Building the Next Generation

As thousands of experienced workers retire across North America every day, it is small wonder many industries are concerned about the future. It has been a decade since the oldest members of the baby boom generation started leaving their jobs, removing from the workplace decades of experience and skills that are tough to replace. The situation is so dire that, when younger workers are not available or knowledgeable enough to take over, retired staffers are often called back to work on a part-time basis.

November 17, 2019, 12:08 AM EST