The Golden Gate Bridge: Innovating Worksite Safety

May 31, 2022

Learn the quick history of the Golden Gate Bridge and how it's construction innovated worksite safety of today.

The Golden Gate Bridge: Innovating Worksite Safety

The Golden Gate Bridge project began in 1933. The chief engineer, Joseph Strauss, had concerns for the worker’s safety. Thanks to him, the job-site was the first to require employees to wear hard hats. The hard hats were made of canvas and aluminum with a functional design shown to help reduce the chance of injury from falling rivets and tools.

The project also installed safety nets and had employees tie off. Despite the high winds, churning currents and towering heights that challenged the work, Strauss was determined to buck the industry’s deadly average of one fatality per million dollars spent on a construction project. The total cost of the project was almost $24 million, so statistical forecasts would expect 24 deaths.

“On the Golden Gate Bridge, we had the idea we could cheat death by providing every known safety device for workers,” he wrote in 1937 for The Saturday Evening Post. Strauss installed safety nets to keep employees from falling to their death. 19 men survived a fall to the safety nets. The men became known as the “The Halfway-to-Hell-Club.”

Only one man had died up until February 1937. A feat unheard of at the time in construction. Unfortunately, 10 men died when scaffolding collapsed and fell through the safety netting. In the end, a total of 11 men lost their lives on the project. The project, from a safety standpoint, was an enormous success. In comparison, the Oakland Bridge had 24 deaths and the Brooklyn Bridge had 27 deaths.

The Golden Gate Bridge project finished under budget and ahead of schedule. Strauss was calculated and serious in his approach to providing a safer work environment for the men on the project. Men were fired for not following safety practices. Men became more comfortable working at heights with safety nets. The men had to be ordered to not jump into the nets.

How This Applies to Construction Today

Why have I given so much history from nearly 100 years ago? Strauss invested $130,000 in safety equipment for the Golden Gate Bridge. The cost was arguably an investment that changed the course of worksite protections, leading the way in safety and reduction in loss of life. The utilization of nets, which had not been used in such a fashion before, and the requirement of hard hats had a significant impact on the project. Strauss was willing to be different, to be successful. Bucking tradition and the status quo to protect employees, Strauss had no fear of being the oddity.

Are we still fighting cultural norms in our current jobs and projects when it comes to safety? Are new technologies and advancements available that we refuse to adopt or move towards? Yes, and I suspect that will always be the case. So, I encourage you to stand out from the crowd like Strauss and help keep the construction industry progressing.

Innovative Products

  • Ladders designed with safety in mind, featuring ground indicators on the last step, oversized standing platforms, lightweight components, and non-conductive materials.
  • Safety Helmets that have a chin strap to make sure the head protection does not fall off, integrated safety lenses, integrated hearing protection, adaptive fit systems, name tags, and other features for sun protection.
  • Forklifts with directional indicator lighting.

Ideas for Incorporating Safety into Designs

  • Build roofs on the ground, then use a lift to place it on the building. This can help reduce falls from roofs, which are all too common. Also include safety anchors for future work and maintenance.
  • Installing air handling units on the ground levels.
  • Creating building codes that reflect safety standards, such as 42” parapets on buildings to eliminate the need for personal fall protection equipment.

There is always resistance to be the first. The difficulty of being the first is exacerbated by the need to shift worldviews and cultural norms by our peers. To do nothing and not change is to not grow. Being a professional requires us to take hard looks in the mirror and ask how we are using best-known practices, innovating and staying current. Let’s not go another hundred years before we are willing to be different.

Photos of the Golden Gate Bridge construction:

About The Author

Aaron Paris, CSP, ASP

Aaron Paris, CSP, ASP
Email As the Director of Safety, Property & Casualty, Aaron has more than six years of experience in workplace safety and 12 years in law enforcement. Aaron consults with clients on a wide variety of safety issues such as worker safety, auto, property risk and other safety procedures. He is also authorized to teach OSHA 10- and 30- hour courses.