When selecting combined head and face protection for your workers, look for a supplier that can help your company develop and implement a comprehensive head and face protection program. (Honeywell Safety Products photo)

Protecting Workers from the Neck Up in High-Hazard Areas

Head and face PPE should be rated to meet the rigors of the specific job application, including hazard type, amount of protective coverage required, electrical conductivity, heat rating, and ease of use when worn in combination with other PPE.

Potential eye and face hazards are found in nearly every industry. However, some work environments pose inherently greater risk to workers' heads, faces, and eyes. Protection above the neck is especially important in high-hazard work areas, such as those involving a significant amount of flying fragments, metal shavings, sand, sawdust, chemical splash, or harmful light radiation.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 1.1 million occupational injuries requiring at least one day away from work in 2008, more than 70,000 were head injuries. More than 60 percent of those occurred to the face and the eyes were by far the most common part of the face affected, accounting for 27,450 of all face injuries. Workers in manufacturing, construction, and trade experience the highest number of head and face injuries overall.

OSHA standards require employers to provide workers with suitable head and face protection wherever potential hazards exist. To effectively prevent injury, the personal protective equipment must be suitable for the hazards present and be properly fitted. Oftentimes, workers are exposed to myriad head and face hazards on any given day, necessitating the use of various forms of PPE within a shift, an hour, or even at the same time. Eye protection, faceshields, hard hats, and welding helmets are all available in a multitude of styles, sizes, and materials to protect workers in high-hazard environments. This article looks at the different levels of protective equipment available and offers guidelines to help keep workers safe from the neck up.

Vision Protection
First and foremost, safety eyewear is a basic necessity in any high-hazard workplace. Because it is a primary protector, its use is required in conjunction with all secondary forms of face protection, including faceshields and welding helmets. In order to comply with OSHA requirements, employers must provide eyewear that meets the American National Standards Institute's ANSI Z87.1 standard for impact protection, which was revised in 2010, in part to make selecting the proper eyewear easier. Formerly organized by protector type, safety eyewear is now organized by typically encountered hazard. Expanded product markings under the revised standard also make it easier to select the appropriate level of protection.

Prior to selecting safety eyewear, assess the hazards faced by your employees so you can provide them with the proper PPE they need to do their work safely. Consider the products best suited for different applications. Plano eyewear looks like regular glasses and provides basic impact protection, while wraparound styles afford the user increased coverage and peripheral protection. Goggles that seal tightly to the face are ideal for individuals in high-dust environments and for those exposed to hazardous chemicals. Keep in mind that high-quality lenses, adjustability features, and modern styling are factors that can help improve workforce compliance with safety eyewear.

BLS data show that welders, cutters, solderers, and braziers experience the second-highest eye injury rate by occupation. Faceshields are required in occupations such as these which involve high impact, high heat (infrared radiation), and/or chemical splash. Look for headgear that is easy to wear and adjust; workers are most likely to wear faceshields incorrectly due to poorly designed headgear or hard hat attachment systems. Flexible and shaped headbands offer individuals a more customized fit, and headbands with a ratcheting adjustment are typically easier to fit than those with pinlocks. When worn properly, headgear should sit between half an inch and one inch above an individual's eyebrows.

Faceshield visors come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials, and national safety regulations do not mandate the amount of coverage required for specific hazards. Therefore, it is up to the safety manager to select the appropriate amount of coverage for the specific application. In applications with cutting, grinding, chemical, or similar hazards, look for a faceshield with an extended, wraparound design to protect from airborne filings or splashes. Keep in mind that faceshields alone do not protect from all impact and chemical splash hazards; they must be used in combination with safety eyewear or goggles.

Head Protection
In environments where electromagnetic energy given off by an arc or flame can injure workers' eyes, a welding helmet may be required. Such helmets contain a filter lens with a shade number that indicates the intensity of light radiation allowed to pass through a filter lens to one's eyes. Employers can choose from two primary types of welding helmets: passive and auto-darkening.

Passive helmets utilize a shaded piece of glass or polycarbonate that the welder looks through. Because the filter is so dark, the welder must remove the helmet to prepare the weld and then replace the helmet before welding begins. An auto-darkening filter automatically darkens when the welding arc is struck; when it is not activated, the lens is light enough to see through easily. Because the welder does not have to continually raise and lower his welding helmet between welds, this type of lens allows for greater productivity and higher-quality welds.

When selecting a welding helmet, reference a shade-selection chart to choose the specialized lens tint appropriate for the job. And remember, when welding is underway, those working within 10 feet of the welding arc also must be protected.

In addition to selecting the proper lens shade, it is important also to be sure the welding helmet is constructed of high-quality, durable materials that amply deflect sparks and reduce the risk of burn-through for the specific application. High-heat environments and many overhead welding jobs require a helmet that is made of heavy-duty material appropriate to withstand the high heat, sparks, and spatter that result. Lesser-quality materials will result in burn-through and potential serious injury to the welder's face, neck, and ears.

In work zones where overhead hazards exist, OSHA requires the use of hard hats in compliance with the ANSI Z89.1-2009 standard for head protection. Hard hats labeled ANSI Type I are intended to protect the user against impact to and penetration of the crown (top of the head) only, while those labeled ANSI Type II are intended to protect against both crown and lateral (side of the head) impact.

In environments where workers may be exposed to electrical hazards, hard hats must protect against electrical shocks, burns and electrocution. For this reason, hard hats are also categorized into three classes to denote their electrical rating. Class C helmets (conductive) provide no electrical protection, Class G (general) helmets are tested at 2,200 volts, and Class E (electrical) hard hats are tested to withstand 20,000 volts. When electrical hazards exist, also consider the mounting systems used to attach supplemental face or hearing protection to hard hats, because the attachment system may change the dielectric rating of the cap. Additionally, never drill holes into a hard hat because this severely affects the cap's dielectric properties.

Combined Protection
Any welding helmet or faceshield used in conjunction with a hard hat relies on some form of mounting system that attaches the face protection to the hard hat. Considerations for selecting a mounting system include frequency of use, ease of use, durability, flexibility, and compatibility with different products. For high-frequency situations, look for attachment systems that are fully adjustable to fit any style of hard hat and have a brim tab design that allows the faceshield or welding helmet to fit securely onto the hard hat. For long-term secure situations, look for attachment components that are pre-installed and permanently fixed onto the hard hat for ease of use. Because of the added weight both a faceshield and welding helmet will add to the hard hat, it is especially important to make sure you choose a properly fitting hard hat with a well-balanced suspension system.

Suspensions typically come in 4-point, 6-point, and 8-point varieties. The greater number of suspension points, the more balanced the hat will feel and the more likely the energy of an impact will be dispersed, potentially resulting in less trauma to the wearer.

When selecting combined head and face protection for your workers, look for a supplier that can help your company develop and implement a comprehensive head and face protection program. Free consultation, hazard analysis, selection criteria development, and OSHA compliance review are some of the ways a supplier can help your organization make the best possible PPE buying decision.

By protecting your workers' heads, faces and eyes, you protect their most valuable assets -– and yours. Head and face PPE should be rated to meet the rigors of the specific job application, including hazard type, amount of protective coverage required, electrical conductivity, heat rating, and ease of use when worn in combination with other PPE. By providing workers with the optimal PPE and encouraging proper usage through a supportive safety culture, employers can reduce head and face injuries in the workplace, which also can provide a healthy boost to productivity and the bottom line.

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

About the Author

Katie Twist-Rowlinson is the product manager for Fibre-Metal® Hard Hats and Welding, Honeywell Safety Products. She oversees Honeywell's lines of hard hats and welding helmets.

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