Who First Advocated For The Use Of Crash Safety Helmets?

Industry News By Sarah

Whilst personal protective equipment is not the only way in which health and safety has evolved in the workplace, the development of increasingly specialised PPE is one of its most visible developments.

Because of this, a key part of health and safety courses is exploring safety equipment, not merely in the context of its use and development, but the complex circumstances in which PPE is often created and used.

A rather unusual example of this in action is the development and widespread use of crash helmets, which can be credited in no small part to a neurosurgeon who treated one of the most fascinating British literary figures of the 20th century.


Seven Pillars Of Wisdom

Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence was a man who left a considerable legacy in many fields, and depending on whether one focuses on his archaeological career, his diplomatic missions or indeed his work in the British Army that earned him a Distinguished Service Order, he had a degree of fame and admiration in each.

His most famous work was the autobiography Seven Pillars of Wisdom, most famous today as the basis for the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia, which was acclaimed not only for the nature of the events it contained but also the mix of vivid prose and introspection that captured the duality of his time stationed in Jordan.

However, whilst his literary works, his military campaigns and his tempestuous relationship with his own fame and public image are all major elements of T.E. Lawrence’s legacy, he also has a part to play in the history of health and safety, albeit one nobody would choose.


Six Days That Changed Safety

Mr Lawrence was a particularly skilled motorcyclist during a relatively early period of motoring, one before many safety regulations became legal requirements.

Two months after leaving military service for the final time, whilst contemplating his future as a civilian, he rode over a dip near Wareham in Dorset, only to spot two boys on their bicycles that he swerved to avoid.

He lost control, was thrown over the handlebars and the impact of the crash placed him in a coma from which he did not wake up. He was pronounced dead six days later on 19th May 1935 at the age of 46.

One of the doctors who attended to him during those five days was Sir Hugh Cairns, an Australian neurosurgeon who was deeply affected by the effects of the crash and believed it was unnecessary how an accident of this type should cost someone their life.

He would start a research project to explore the effects of head injuries suffered by despatch riders and civilian motorcycle users, one that would take six years to be published in the British Medical Journal.

According to his study, 110 riders died each month, something he believed could be reduced through the use of crash helmets, although he only had seven examples to prove his case due to their lack of adoption at the time.

This would eventually have a significant contribution to not only motorcyclists but the health and safety world in general. Crash helmets would become legally required, which was one of the first steps towards a safer working environment and more effective legislation.

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