New head protection models that offer a see-through visor on the bill of a hard hat is one way of allowing workers to see the hazards that may be lurking above them. (Bullard photo)

Avoiding Hazards

I have heard so many stories from workers who have credited wearing a hard hat with saving their lives.

A few months ago I was watching the nightly news and a reporter was covering a tragic story on a construction site where a supervisor had been struck in the head by a hammer that had fallen off a beam almost 30 feet above him. The supervisor on the work site was not wearing head protection and died from his injuries.

The first step in helping workers stay safe on a job site is wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). Job sites across the United States require workers to wear head protection when there is the possibility of worker injury from falling or flying objects.

Why, then, do workers sometimes fail to wear head protection on the job site? Comfort is the number one reason. Workers want to be comfortable, especially when they are working in high heat temperatures and wearing a hard hat can be extremely uncomfortable and hot. However, comfort is not a valid reason to forego head protection. What's more important than protecting your head? OSHA and ANSI regulations require workers to wear head protection when the work site has the potential for falling objects.

Our knowledge about head injuries has grown considerably over the years, particularly with the attention the NFL has received regarding concussions. Head trauma can have lasting effects on a professional athlete. The same applies to workers on job sites. There's no excuse why head protection is not worn on every work site across America.

The best way to protect your head while on the job is by wearing a hard hat. I have heard so many stories from workers who have credited wearing a hard hat with saving their lives. One recent story was shared with me from a highway construction worker who was wearing a hard hat when he was struck by a truck's side view mirror. The driver of the truck swerved to miss hitting the worker, but the truck's side view mirror extension struck the worker in the head. Thank goodness this worker was wearing a hard hat that saved his life.

Head Protection Innovations
PPE manufacturers are becoming more innovative in their hard hat designs because workers are demanding comfort, style, and safety in their hat models. Hard hats are designed to meet or exceed the requirements of ANSI/ISEA Z89.1 standard. New model hard hats have recently been introduced by manufacturers who are designing for the way workers perform their jobs. For instance, new head protection models that offer a see-through visor on the bill of a hard hat is one way of allowing workers to see the hazards that may be lurking above them. Changes in hard hat suspensions and brow pads are all new choices workers have when choosing the right head protection for their type of work.

Utility, construction, and oil workers need to see the dangers above them to stay safe on the job. Highway workers need to be seen on the job. My story about the highway worker who was struck in the head by a truck's side view mirror happened because the worker was not visible to the driver. The truck driver didn't see the highway worker until he was right on top of him, forcing the driver to swerve to avoid hitting the worker head on.

As highway drivers, we have become so accustomed to road construction projects that we often fail to notice the signs or even check to see where the workers are. One of the easiest ways to keep workers safe is to make them visible. Low visibility is another danger on a job site with workers sometimes standing less than 10 feet away from high-speed traffic while other workers are operating heavy equipment.

The ANSI/ISEA 107-2015 Standard for High-Visibility Safety Apparel and Accessories, along with the ANSI/ISEA 107-2010 Standard for High Visibility Safety Apparel (HVSA) and the ANSI/ISEA 207-2011 American National Standard for High-Visibility Public Safety Vests, form a single comprehensive standard to help keep workers safe on the job. By combining the standards, ANSI/ISEA added to its current Performance Class 1, 2, and 3 requirements by including three new garment types for reflective options to see workers more clearly:

  • Type O (off-road) or Performance Class 1: non-roadway use where workers are not exposed to high traffic or temporary control zones.
  • Type R (roadway) or Performance Class 2 or 3: workers are exposed to traffic from public access highway rights-of-way or roadway temporary control zones.
  • Type P (public safety) or Performance Class 2 or 3: emergency and incident responders and law enforcement personnel who are exposed to struck-by hazards in roadway or off-road work environments.

Below are examples of occupational activities for each of the classifications:

  • Type O/Performance 1: parking attendants, shopping cart retrievers, warehouse workers with equipment traffic, sidewalk maintenance workers, or delivery vehicle drivers.
  • Type R/Performance 2 or 3: railway workers, forestry workers, school crossing guards, airport crews, law enforcement personnel directing traffic, and accident site investigators.
  • Type P/Performance 2 or 3: roadway construction personnel, utility workers, survey crews, emergency response personnel, and flagging crews.

According to this standard, apparel worn by workers must provide 360-degree visibility during the day and night. A safety vest that provides reflectivity only on the back and torso does not meet the standard. Fluorescent garments that make a worker highly visible during the day but nearly invisible at dusk do not meet the standard.

High-Visibility Options
Head protection is not specifically covered by the standard, although hard hat manufacturers offer several high-visibility options for workers to choose. Workers can increase the visibility of their hard hat by choosing a high-visibility shell color. Yellow is a common high-visibility color, as is green or orange.

Hard hats that meet the non-mandatory requirements for high visibility (ANSI/ISEA Z89.1-2014) are marked "HV" by the manufacturer. Be aware that if your hard hat is a high-visibility color, prolonged daylight exposure can fade the cap's color and thereby compromise a worker’s visibility and safety. Ultraviolet rays degrade colorants, so hard hats should not be stored in direct sunlight when not in use.

Striping on a hard hat is another way to increase a worker's visibility. By using striping that is reflective and/or fluorescent in color, hard hats can provide enhanced worker visibility. The same highly reflective striping that is applied to clothing to meet the ANSI/ISEA 107-2015 standard also can be applied to hard hats. To achieve improved retroreflectance, use striping with a high CPL number. To achieve 360-degree reflectivity, add striping all the way around the brim of your hard hat. Many hard hat manufacturers will custom decorate caps by applying striping as well as custom logos. 

PPE must be worn to help avoid the hazards that we often don't see. Those unforeseen accidents that can happen in a blink of an eye can change our lives forever. Workers can avoid above and low-visibility hazards by wearing head protection. The hard hat, invented in 1919 to protect coal miners from fallen debris, is still the most important PPE available to protect workers' heads while on the job. The next time you walk onto a job site, be sure you are wearing your hard hat. It's too risky not to.

This article originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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