Keep in mind that a system must overcome the weight of large shields and chin protection to be effective.

Three Keys: Safety, Performance, Comfort

The adjustability of hard hats has come a long way since their invention in 1919.

Thanks to advances in safety, the hard hat has evolved through the decades. There have been many recent improvements, but its story began almost 100 years ago with the "Hard-Boiled Hat." Patented in 1919, its name came from the steam used in the manufacturing process.

The original "Hard-Boiled Hat" was manufactured of steamed canvas, glue, and black paint. North America's first application was the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge construction site. This workplace had a problem with falling rivets, so it is understandable that head protection became necessary.

We have now evolved from those days of primitive materials and no standards to having 21st century design, materials, and organizations such as ANSI helping to bring us to the next level.

Key Issues
When selecting head protection equipment, it's important to choose a well-designed hard hat system that provides protection for a worker's head, face, and ears. Comfort, adjustability, and application use are key issues to consider as buyers evaluate designs.

The first step is that the hard hat must comply with the latest standard edition of ANSI Z89.1-2009. ANSI Z89 covers the minimum performance requirements for hard hat protection from impact and penetration and classes of protection from electrical shock. Type I hard hats are designed to reduce force from blows to the top of the head, while Type II hard hats are designed to reduce the force of blows to the top or side of the head.

You'll find many features available that are not specified in the ANSI Z89 1-2009 standard, features that are important when wearing a hard hat for hours per day, five days a week. These include the size, shape, slope of the brim, type of suspension, comfort of materials used for the suspension, brow pad, the presence or lack of a nape guard, accessory slots, rain trough, and venting options.

What's New?
The latest hard hat system is properly designed and integrates all components to ensure worker safety, high performance, and comfort. Advances in design include a recessed rim, which improves fit for cap-mounted muffs in a very big way. When you have a better fit, you have improved protection.

Look for brands of hard hats that have built-in adjustability for head-hugging fit and slots for adapting accessories. Accessories called slot adaptors or "blades" fit into slots to combine a visor (faceshield), with or without cap-mounted ear muffs. This allows the user to adjust the position of the faceshield closer to or further from the face. It also positions the shield in front of the face or overhead when it is not required.

Keep in mind that a system must overcome the weight of large shields and chin protection to be effective. A well-designed system allows the worker to adjust the cap muffs in a number of ways. Muffs can be positioned vertically up and down to fit comfortably over the ears. Muffs can be positioned on standby, by folding the muffs out and positioning them on top of the hard hat and available for future use. This integrated system is an excellent option, allowing easy access to shield and muffs when entering a hazardous environment. Ease of adjustability improves comfort and performance in the following ways:

  • A head-hugging suspension can be vital for workers angling their heads or working in a leaning position. Suspensions are offered either in pin lock or ratchet size adjustment and with four or six points of fabric or plastic materials. Hard hats should provide for height adjustability of the headband. In some designs, a rear swivel band ensures adjustability to the shape of back of the head. Together, these features increase comfort and help the user find the best position for a snug fit.
  • Slot adaptors (blades) should have channels with position stops for moving the shield close to or further from the face. This prevents fogging and is critical when wearing face masks.
  • Visor brackets should have strong springs to hold the shield firmly in position when overhead. No one wants a shield flopping up and down while walking.
  • Utilizing the components in a non-metal system provides dielectric construction.
  • Hard hats that have recesses in the rim allow ear muffs to slide up and down easily without restricting fit, performance, or comfort.

Classes of Industrial Protective Headwear
The standard also covers dielectric properties. To qualify for a Class E rating (electric), manufacturers also must ensure the materials used to make a hard hat -- both the shell and the suspension -- be dielectric, as a hat must pass an electrical test that protects up to 20,000 volts. For a Class G rating (general purpose), the conductivity test must qualify with a protection limit of 2,200 volts. Lastly, a Class C rating is a hard hat manufactured of conductive material or a hard hat that does not meet Classes E or G. This would be suitable only in areas where there is no risk of electrical hazards.

Hard Hat Maintenance
An often-overlooked area in many articles of personal protective equipment is maintenance. Hard hats are no exception and must be maintained. A dirty hat covers up small cracks and it's very difficult to inspect. Too many workers don't read the manufacturer's instructions and don't maintain them. Hard hats are some of the most important PPE that workers wear. They are life saving devices and should be treated as such.

A hard hat system that is properly designed and integrates all components will ensure worker safety, high performance, and comfort.

This article originally appeared in the July 2012 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Fred Ravetto is General Manager and Vice President of Elvex Corporation in Bethel, Conn. He has more than 30 years of experience in the environmental and industrial safety fields; his work in advancing worker safety has taken him to more than 30 countries on six continents. He holds a mechanical engineering degree from Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y. To contact him, call 203-743-2488 or email [email protected] Visit for more information.

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