Certain jobs require workers to be exposed to dangerous situations, such as in construction. These jobs require workers to take extra precautions to ensure their safety, considering the probability of accidents and injuries are greater.
Hard hats are personal protective equipment to protect workers from head injuries in different workplace situations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nine percent of all workplace injuries are head injuries, while only 16% of workers who had head injuries wore hard hats despite requirements.
We are going to take a detailed look into hard hats, their purpose, varieties, and maintenance to evaluate if they are a necessity in your work environment
What are they?
Hard hats are helmets designed specifically for use in work environments such as manufacturing, industrial and construction sites to protect the head from injury. The outside shells are usually made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE) or a polycarbonate resin as they are strong, easy to mold, lightweight, and do not conduct electricity. The shell is rigid, and its main purpose is to deflect blows to the head.
The hats come with a suspension system made of woven nylon webbing strips and bands of nylon, vinyl, or molded HDPE. The suspension system and the internal foam lining serve as a shock absorber and an insulator against electrical shocks. Some helmets also feature a shield for your face and neck to prevent contact with any harmful materials.
Where to use?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules state that hard hats must be used whenever there is a possibility of injury from impacts, falling or flying objects, or electrical shock.
There are a number of industries that consider it important for their workers to wear a hard hat:
- Manufacturing and packaging
- Oil and gas
- Cutting and logging
- Freight handlers
The helmets also offer protection during painting, spraying, sanding, grinding, and asbestos removal.
Do I need one?
You might require a hard hat if you work in one of the industries listed above. It is crucial to get hard hats that comply with relevant standards according to the worksite’s needs. Hard hats must always be worn if there is a risk of objects falling from above, and they are increasingly becoming mandatory on most work sites to protect their employees from sustaining injuries.
Hard hats are required if you work in any area where there is a chance you might:
- be struck or hit by falling or moving objects
- be impacted by fixed or protruding objects such as pipes or beams
- come into contact with debris and elements such as rain or snow
- be exposed to electricity and electrical conductors such as loose wires
- face extreme temperatures, weather conditions, or exposure to UV radiation
The main reason for wearing hard hats is to protect yourself from head or brain injuries which can cause concussions and have long-term effects on your physical and mental health. In the worst-case scenario, traumatic brain injuries can even lead to nerve damage, paralysis, or death.
Apart from wearing hard hats, companies also have specific protocols in place to make their work environment safer for workers, which you should follow to protect yourself. Familiarize yourself with these controls to better protect yourself and your coworkers. This includes:
- Following safety helmet warning signs
- Using toe boards on elevated areas
- Using tool lanyards when working above people.
- Avoiding working directly under others
Employers are responsible for providing their employees with hard hats that comply with the job requirements and provide sufficient protection considering the nature of work. It is also the employer’s responsibility to train their workers to use and maintain their hard hats. Typically, the training should include:
- The purpose of hard hats
- The hazards hard hats protect from
- Functioning of the hard hat
- Limitations of hard hats
- When hard hats must be worn
- Proper usage of hard hats, including the right way to wear one
- Adjusting the fit of hard hats for comfort
- Proper storage for hard hats
- Identifying signs of wear or damage
- Hard hat cleanliness and maintenance
How to wear properly
To get the most protection from your hard hat, you must ensure it is worn properly. The first thing to look out for is the fit; there should be enough room between the shell and suspension system for proper ventilation, while the helmet should not be too big or too small. Once you have the size right, you can follow the instructions below to learn how to wear your hard hat.
- If you wish to wear any clothing item under your hard hat, make sure it is a specially designed hard hat liner and not just any other material, so it does not affect the functionality of your hard hat.
- The bill of the hard hat should point towards the front of your head. If the cap is worn backward, it compromises the effectiveness and fit.
- Adjust the harness to ensure it always has complete contact with your head while being comfortable
- Use the chin straps to secure your hard hat and keep it in place.
- Ensure any attachments such as lights are compatible with the model of the hard hat.
- Read the instructions carefully regarding helmet use, and in case of any questions or concerns, contact the manufacturer.
Types of hard hats
Hard hats are also divided into types and classes depending on the degree of impact and protection from electrical hazards. There are two types of hard hats which are defined by the area of the head that is protected.
- Type I is used for the general industrial trade, such as construction and factories. This helmet protects the top of the head from direct impact and is commonly used in the United States
- Type II is used in workplaces exposed to constant high heat, such as steel and glass manufacturing. This type offers protection to the top and sides of the head from off-center impact and is more commonly used in Europe
Another type of helmet known as Type III is also available, which protects the head and is used in bushfire fighting by emergency personnel.
These hard hats are also divided into three classes, each categorized according to the degree of electrical protection they offer:
- Class G (General) hard hats provide electrical protection up to 2,200 volts
- Class E (Electrical) hard hats provide electrical protection up to 20,000 volts
- Class C (Conductive) hard hats do not offer any electrical protection
Additional features and attachments of accessories can also provide greater protection, such as a hard hat face shield, noise-canceling gear, respirator, or work lamp. Other beneficial features can include color coding, which can provide a safer environment at any worksite.
How to take care of your hard hat
Regular maintenance can increase the life of your hard hat by helping you identify and mitigate any signs of damage to ensure you are always protected.
- Proper storage can lead to an extended life span so make sure you keep your hard hat in e in a cool and dry environment. Keep it away from direct sunlight to avoid UV damage.
- Avoid exposure to chemicals like paints, paint thinners, cleaning agents, and adhesives not formulated for helmet use agents, which can cause the shell to crack.
- Clean your hard hat before you wear it. Use mild soap and warm water to rinse, and let it air dry.
- Always inspect the hat’s shell. If the shell looks chalky and loses its shiny finish, it’s time to replace it.
If the helmet’s structural integrity has been damaged, you need to replace the hat immediately. However, even if you take excellent care of your hard hat, the material deteriorates over time and must be replaced every three years.