Throwing on a hard hat when you are in the warehouse or headed to a job site is a great habit, but it's also important for workers to know why it's required and be able to evaluate if they are wearing the right hard hat for their job.
Head protection, specifically the use of a hard hat, isn't only a construction site requirement. Even though most construction work requires head protection, it is important that workers recognize work tasks where helmets or hard hats are needed even when they are not on a construction site.
Protective helmets, like hard hats, are meant to reduce the amount of force when there is an impact to the head but may not be enough to provide complete protection from a severe blow to the head or penetration.
OSHA Standard 1910.135(a)(1) The employer shall ensure that each affected employee wears a protective helmet when working in areas where there is a potential for injury to the head from falling objects.
Examples of jobs where head protection may be required include: electricians, mechanics, pipe fitters, assemblers, packers, wrappers, welders, freight handlers, cutting and logging, stock handlers, and warehouse personnel.
Hard hats should be effective against small tools, small pieces of wood, bolts, nuts, rivets, sparks and similar hazards.
The use of head protection should never be considered a substitute for good safety practices and engineering controls.
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 or items that could potentially fall from heights above them 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
- 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
Even where there may not be an OSHA requirement to wear head protection, employers may require 100% hard hat use as a company policy.
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.
Hard hats must be worn correctly in order to be effective. Some hard hats are designed to fit one size, while others are adjustable. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper fitting procedures.
OSHA Standard 1910.135(b)(1)(i) Head protection must comply with American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z89.1-2009, "American National Standard for Industrial Head Protection," incorporated by reference in Sec. 1910.6.
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.
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. For example, baseball caps should not be worn underneath hard hats.
Depending on the job, some workers may be required to wear hard hats that also provide protection from impacts that happen to the sides of the hard hat, in addition to the top of the head. These types of hard hats are classified as Type II helmets according to ANSI Z89.1.
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
OSHA Standard 1910.135(a)(2) The employer shall ensure that a protective helmet designed to reduce electrical shock hazard is worn by each such affected employee when near exposed electrical conductors which could contact the head.
OSHA Standard 1910.335(a)(1)(iv) Employees shall wear nonconductive head protection wherever there is a danger of head injury from electric shock or burns due to contact with exposed energized parts.
Aluminum hardhats should not be worn in areas where a worker may come in contact with energized circuits.
Just because wearing a hard hat seems basic, don't assume that workers don't need training in this area. It is important that all employees required to wear head protection receive training on how to recognize hazards that require head protection, how to properly wear and maintain personal head protection and when to replace the hard hat.
OSHA Standard 1910.132(f)(1) The employer shall provide training to each employee who is required by this section to use PPE.
Don't forget to cover these additional safety precautions during the next safety meeting about workplace head protection:
- Hard hats must be worn when working below other workers who are using tools and materials which could fall.
- 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.