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 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.
In order to be effective, hard hats, or protective helmets, must be penetration-resistant, shock-absorbent, water- and fire-resistant. Hard hats must have easy-to-understand instructions provided that explain proper adjustment as well as how to replace the suspension and headband correctly.
Even where there may not be an OSHA requirement to wear head protection, employers may require 100% hard hat use as a company policy. The use of head protection should never be considered a substitute for good safety practices and engineering controls.
Potential job site hazards that may require head protection:
- Falling, flying or moving objects
- Electrical shock or burns due to contact with exposed electrical conductors
- Environments with low overhead or fixed objects like piping, beams, pallet racks, heavy equipment, or inside confined spaces where a worker has the potential to bump their head
Hard hats must be worn when working below other workers who are using tools and materials which could fall.
OSHA rules state that Where falling object hazards are present, helmets (hard hats) must be worn. But that isn’t the only time that a hard hat may be required.
It is important that workers are aware of any possible hazards to their head such as:
- Falling objects such as parts, tools, packages, boxes, and other stored or racked materials
- Flying parts or particles from cutting, conveyor, or grinding operations
- Moving parts, pieces, or objects being handled by overhead lifting equipment such as gantry cranes
- Striking the front, sides, or top of the head by walking under shelves, racks, pipes, or structures
- Contact with electrical lines, wires, or energized parts
Make sure your hard hat fits properly! If your hard hat is too large or too small, even if it meets all the requirements, it will not protect you properly. Hard hats must be worn correctly in order to be effective. Hard hats, when fitted correctly, should not bind, slip, fall off or irritate the skin. Some hard hats are designed to fit one size, while others are adjustable. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper fitting procedures.
Because hard hats are engineered to keep a designed distance between the hard hat shell and the worker’s head, it is important to not add any accessories or liners that are not approved by the manufacturer or compatible with the helmet. OSHA recommends that employers permit only liners that are specifically designed to be compatible with the protective properties of the hard hat. Baseball caps should not be worn underneath hard hats.
Workers need to know that not every hard hat is the same! The type of protection provided by a hard hat can be very different depending on the style and the manufacturer.
Head protection, such as hard hats, must be designed to provide protection from impact and penetration hazards caused by falling objects. OSHA requires hard hats to meet special requirements and be marked with ANSI Z89.1.
Type I hard hats protect from impacts to the top of the head and Type II hard hats protect the top and sides of the head.
There are also three classes of hard hats related to electrical protection.
- Class G or General hard hats provide some electrical protection
- Class E or Electrical hard hats provide significant protection from electrical hazards
- Class C or Conductive hard hats do not provide any protection from electricity
ANSI cautions, “The maximum voltage against which helmets will protect the wearer depends on a number of variable factors, such as the characteristics of the electrical circuit and the equipment involved, the care exercised in maintenance of equipment, and weather conditions.”
Aluminum hardhats should not be worn in areas where a worker may come in contact with energized circuits.
Protective headgear accessories (like slots for eye PPE or optional brims) can help workers be more comfortable and comply with additional PPE requirements, but keep in mind that hardhat accessories must not compromise the safety elements of the protective helmet.
Before wearing, carefully inspect the hard hat, including all components and accessories, for any signs of damage. Look for dents, cracks, holes due to penetration, or any other damage due to impact, wear, or rough treatment that might reduce the degree of protection originally provided with the hard hat.
A hard hat with excessively worn, damaged, or defective areas should be removed from service. Any hard hat that has received an impact may have a reduced ability to protect a worker and should be removed from service.
During inspection if there are signs that a hard hat has lost the glossy finish, a chalky appearance is beginning to emerge, or the shell is starting to flake away, these may be signs of UV radiation damage, which can cause a hard hat to lose some effectiveness.
Do not store or carry hard hats on the rear window shelf of a vehicle. Sunlight and extreme heat can cause the hard hat to degrade faster, and the helmet can become a flying object hazard in an emergency braking situation.
Do not intentionally drop or throw hard hats, or use them as supports, because damage can adversely affect their level of protection.
Do not alter or modify a hard hat to add accessories unless it’s an approved method provided by the manufacturer.
Remember these important tips when it comes to head protection and hard hats:
- Always be aware of any possible hazards to your head.
- Not every hard hat is the same! The type of protection provided can be very different depending on the type of hard hat.
- OSHA requires hard hats to meet special requirements and be marked with ANSI Z89.1.
- Workers exposed to electrical hazards must wear the appropriate head protection for the type of electrical hazard.
- Inspect your hard hat daily for signs of damage.
- Some hazards to the head may require workers to use hard hats designed for impacts to the sides as well as the top of the head.
- Workers need training to recognize the types of hazards requiring head protection, how to properly wear and maintain their head protection, and when to replace it.
- Make sure your hard hat fits properly! If your hard hat is too large or too small, even if it meets all the requirements, it will not protect you properly.
- Hardhat accessories must not compromise the safety elements of the protective helmet.
- Always replace a hard hat if it has sustained any kind of impact, even if damage is not noticeable. Replace hard hats if they have cracks or show signs of damage.