Protecting Your Head
Protecting workers from potential head injuries is an essential component of any workplace safety program, especially in the construction industry, where a head injury can become life-threatening in an instant. Hard hats, if worn properly and consistently, can protect crew members from falling or flying objects, electrical shock hazards and unintentional hard hits against fixed objects. OSHA
OSHA Standard 1926.100(a) Employees working in areas where there is a possible danger of head injury from impact, or from falling or flying objects, or from electrical shock and burns, shall be protected by protective helmets. (Similar language for WA State)
Like all Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), OSHA regulations require the use of American National Standards Institute (ANSI) compliant head protection (ANSI Z89.1-2014). And OSHA rule (29 C.F.R. 1926.100) states that employers must provide head protection equipment that meets or exceeds the industry consensus standard ANSI Z89.1. Hard hat classification is referred to by their Type and Class.
There are two types of hard hats:
ANSI Type I: Protects against blows to the top of the head and meets vertical impact and penetration requirements. These are used mainly in the United States.
ANSI Type II: Protects against blows to the top and side of the head and meet both vertical and lateral impact and penetration requirements. These are more commonly used in Canada.
The three classes of head protection include:
- Class E (electrical) provides protection to withstand 20,000 volts
- Class G (general) provides protection to withstand 2,200 volts
- Class C (conductive) does not provide protection from electricity
Therefore, a Type 1, Class C hard hat would be the standard worn by a construction worker not exposed to electrical hazards. An electrician would more than likely wear a Type 1, Class E hard hat.
Hard hats come in many styles and is often a personal choice. The two most popular are the Cap style which has a front brim with a rolled edge (allowing water to drain off the bill); and the Full Brim style which is a wider brimmed hat.
When is it time to get a new hard hat?
While there are no hard and fast guidelines on when to replace a hard hat, standard hard hats can last up to five years. Accessories like liners, sweatbands and straps should be replaced once a year. Workers who wear hard hats daily should inspect them on a regular basis. Encourage the crew to conduct frequent checks on their own hard hats; checking the straps and suspension for any wear and tear. Suspension systems can and should be replaced when the straps are frayed or damaged. Hard hats should be inspected prior to every use. Any visible damage (such as dents, cracks, gouges or penetration of the shell) or a failed inspection, warrants the purchase of a new hard hat.
Hard Hat Dos and Don’ts
- DO CLEAN your hard hat as needed, using a mild soap and water solution or other solution recommended by the manufacturer
- DO STORE your hard hat as recommended by the manufacturer, which means keeping it out of the direct sun (like on the back dash of your car) and out of areas with high heat (like in the car trunk) while you’re off the job
- DO INSPECT your hard hat shell and suspension for damage and deterioration every day before use, as well as after any event that may affect its integrity (such as being struck by a falling object or crushed)
- DO REPLACE your hard hat shell or suspension when it shows any signs of damage or deterioration
- DO NOT PAINT your hard hat
- Hard hat manufacturers typically forbid using paints because they can degrade the strength of the hard hat shell, making it easier to break
- DO NOT USE SOLVENTS to clean your hard hat
- Just like with paints, solvents can also degrade the strength of the hard hat shell
- DO NOT ALTER OR MODIFY your hard hat
- Drilling holes and/or inserting screws in your hard hat so you can add attachments (or for any other reason) can weaken the shell of your hard hat, and can also allow electrical current to pass through
- DO NOT WEAR YOUR HARD HAT BACKWARDS unless specifically approved by the hard hat manufacturer and your employer
- DO NOT WEAR A BALL CAP OR TOBOGGAN BENEATH YOUR HARD HAT
- Doing so could interfere with the suspension and shell, which work together to reduce the force of an impact
- Cold weather liners approved by the hard hat manufacturer are available