Innovation Meets Performance

New wrinkles in hard hats include one sourced from sugar cane and another with an ultraviolet indicator to help the wearer determine when the hard hat should be replaced.

Innovation can be found in every PPE category, including head protection. Recently we've seen a hard hat entirely sourced from sugar cane, UV indicators to help a hard hat's wearer determine when the headwear should be replaced, and a dual-hinge, hard hat-mounted faceshield that can be lifted in one motion and offers "unmatched balance," according to its manufacturer.

Walking around the expos of the big summer conferences allows you to see lightweight hard hats with one-touch suspensions, a rainbow of colors, soft brow pads, in vented and unvented styles. Of course, they meet the requirements of OSHA's 29 CFR 1910.135 head protection standard, which incorporates by reference the ANSI/ISEA Z89.1-2009 American National Standard for Industrial Head Protection. This latter standard will be revised this summer, the International Safety Equipment Association announced May 13. An ISEA news release included an invitation from Cristine Fargo (cfargo@safetyequipment.org), ISEA's director of member and technical services, seeking applicants to serve as consensus panel members for the document during the development process. These individuals will submit comments and vote on the approval of the revised standard before it is submitted to ANSI for acceptance, according to the release.

It says consensus review was expected to begin in late June, after press time for this issue, and reviewers in these four categories can participate:

  • Producer: A manufacturer of the product covered by the standard or the product's components.
  • User: An organization that uses, specifies, or purchases the product covered by the standard.
  • Government: An agency or department that has regulatory authority or other interest in the product.
  • General Interest: An organization that has a special interest in the standard due to safety, technical, or other requirements or an individual expert who has knowledge in the area(s) covered by the standard but neither produces nor uses the product.

At 29 CFR 1910.135(a)(2), OSHA specifies that protective helmets designed to reduce electrical shock hazards must be worn by employees who could sustain electric shocks or burns from contact with exposed electrical conductors that could contact the head. In addition, manufacturers' instructions about adjustment and replacement of the suspension should be followed, and employers also should replace hard hats and their suspension systems when they are damaged or deteriorated – thus demonstrating the value of a UV indicator.

The Religious Exemption
The most recent OSHA standard interpretation letter mentioning head protection that I could find on the agency's website was dated Aug. 5, 2011, and addressed to the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund in Washington, D.C. While it concerned possible exemptions from citations for employers whose workers refuse on religious grounds to wear respirators, the letter cited and linked to a 1994 OSHA directive about the same federal statute at issue here, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and exemptions when workers for religious reasons refuse to wear hard hats.

OSHA's head of enforcement wrote in the 2011 letter that the agency would not provide a religious exemption from the respiratory standard, but the 1994 directive, issued during when Joe Dear was head of the agency, confirms there is an exemption for hard hats.

"On November 16, 1993, President Clinton signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, P.L. 103-141 (RFRA)," the directive states.

"a. RFRA contains findings that laws ‘neutral’ toward religion may burden religious exercise as surely as laws intended to interfere with religious exercise, and that governments should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification.

"b. RFRA restores the compelling interest test as set forth in Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963) and Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972); guarantees its application in all cases where free exercise of religion is substantially burdened; and provides a claim or defense to persons whose religious exercise is substantially burdened by government.

"c. Under RFRA, Federal, State and local governments may not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion unless they demonstrate that application of the burden to the person is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

"OSHA has decided to grant an exemption from citations to employers of employees who, for reasons of personal religious convictions, object to wearing hard hats in the workplace. There may be, however, circumstances in the future that would involve a hard hat hazard sufficiently grave to raise a compelling governmental interest for requiring the wearing of hard hats, notwithstanding employee personal religious convictions."

This article originally appeared in the July 2013 OHS issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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