Head protection that is either too large or too small is inappropriate for use, even if it meets all other requirements.

Tips for Selecting and Maintaining Hard Hats

In the United States, make sure that every hat is permanently marked with "ANSI" on the shell and the suspension so you know it meets or exceeds national standards.

Hard hats are among the most commonly used forms of personal protective equipment. Required in a wide range of applications, from construction, manufacturing, welding, and forestry to oil and gas, hard hats protect individuals' most valuable assets--their heads--from impact or penetration of falling or flying objects, as well as from electrical shock or burn hazards.

American National Standards Institute Z89.1-2009 specifically addresses industrial head protection and calls for hard hats to be worn wherever hazards to workers' heads exist. OSHA also recognizes that protecting workers from potential head injuries is a key element of every safety program and states that employers must ensure their employees wear head protection if any potential hazard to the head exists. Many employers implement their own additional requirements for hard hat usage to ensure the utmost protection for their workers.

Despite national and private safety standards for hard hat use, occupational head injuries are more common than you might expect. In fact, head injuries accounted for 80,910 of the more than 1.1 million workplace injuries requiring at least one day away from work in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Non-compliance is a major reason why such injuries persist, and there are many reasons why workers neglect to wear hard hats. Poor comfort, fit or style are contributing factors. In addition, some workers choose not to wear caps if they don't believe they are in imminent danger or if they think nobody is looking. Similarly hazardous is wearing a hard hat after it has become compromised, while the shell or suspension is no longer capable of protecting a worker's head.

The results of not wearing hard hats--or wearing those that have exceeded their service life--can be catastrophic. Head injuries can result in short- and long-term effects spanning concussions, memory loss, and paralysis, as well as fatalities. It is every employer's responsibility to outfit workers with an appropriate hard hat wherever hazards to the head exist. If unsure whether your site requires hard hat protection, start by conducting a thorough assessment of workplace hazards. Look for objects that might fall and strike workers on the head, fixed objects workers could bump their heads against, and places where someone's head could accidentally come in contact with electrical hazards. If the workplace includes any such potential hazard to the head, follow these tips to help ensure proper hard hat selection and maintenance.

Type I vs. Type II
When it comes to selecting a cap, performance should be the number one consideration. OSHA and the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) require compliance with ANSI Z89.1-2009 and CSA Z94.1 standards, respectively, and each specifies two levels of protection. ANSI Type I/CSA Type 1 caps are intended to protect the wearer against impact to and penetration of the crown, or top, only. These caps are the most commonly worn type in the United States. By contrast, ANSI Type II/CSA Type 2 hard hats protect against both lateral and crown impact and are more commonly worn in Canada as required by safety standards there.

While Type II/Type 2 hats are slightly larger, heavier, and warmer to wear, the added level of protection they provide can be lifesaving. In fact, the adoption of Type II hats is rising in the United States as employers become increasingly aware of the added protection they provide. Evaluate your site's hazards to determine the right type of protection. When selecting Type II/Type 2 hats, look for lightweight options with a well-balanced suspension and liners that allow ventilation to encourage safe, comfortable all-day wear. In the United States, make sure that every hat is permanently marked with "ANSI" on the shell and the suspension so you know it meets or exceeds national standards.

Suspension Considerations
A hard hat's suspension is the internal framework that helps absorb and distribute energy upon impact. Hard hats generally come with four-, six-, or eight-point suspensions. The number of points represents how many connections exist between the suspension and cap. Caps with more suspension points have a greater ability to spread weight and impact over a wider area. Dispersing impact across more suspension points minimizes the amount of shock delivered on impact, as well as the after-effects of the impact, which supports a positive outcome. Furthermore, a greater number of suspension points maximizes stability and comfort. When the weight of the hat is distributed more evenly it feels lighter, and its greater adjustability reduces the hat's tendency to wobble. Nonetheless, all three suspensions deliver the same level of impact protection to meet ANSI and CSA regulations.

To ensure a safe fit, hats must be worn as snugly as possible. Head protection that is either too large or too small is inappropriate for use, even if it meets all other requirements. Sizing and adjustability options abound. Suspension circumference is commonly adjusted by pin locks, ratchets, tab locks, and sliding bands. Height adjustments are important in achieving low-to-the-head, secure retention, while swing suspensions are a valuable feature for individuals who frequently wear caps backward. If frequent resizing is anticipated, look for adjustability features that are quick and easy to use so workers can focus on the task at hand, rather than their PPE.

Electrified Environments
In environments where workers may be exposed to electrical hazards, hard hats must protect against electrical shocks, burns, and electrocution. Dielectric hats are available in two classes: Class G hard hats protect at up to 2,200 volts and Class E hats protect at up to 20,000 volts. Class C hats are conductive and offer no protection from electrical hazards.

The ANSI and CSA ratings for dielectric hats are the same, and can be found molded into the underside of the brim. When dielectric protection is required, be sure that attachment systems for additional eye, face, or hearing protection do not alter the dielectric property of the hat. Finally, never drill holes into a cap because such action severely affects the cap's dielectric properties.

Customization Options
Despite their prevalence on work sites everywhere, hard hats can be customized in a number of ways for easy identification. Color coding is a popular option and can denote workers’ expertise or rank in an organization. Caps also can be customized with logos to support brand recognition or with graphics to denote personal or professional interests. It is important to avoid painting a cap--the chemicals in paint can weaken the shell and alter its dielectric resistance. Similarly, caution should be exercised when placing stickers or labels on caps. While most will not affect the cap's dielectric rating, they can prohibit a thorough visual inspection. As with hard hats for electrical protection, never drill holes in a cap because it will reduce the integrity of the protection.

Inspection and Care
ANSI and CSA require end users to conduct a thorough inspection of their hard hats and suspension before each use. Visually inspect the hat for evidence of cracking and gouging and replace the hat immediately if any such instance is found. If the hat suffers from any type of impact or impalement or has experienced a fall greater than 8 feet, replace it immediately even if there is no visible damage.

Next, check the structural integrity of the cap. Many conditions adversely affect the hat's useful lifespan, including ultraviolet exposure, temperature extremes, chemical exposure, and daily wear. Prolonged exposure to sunlight can degrade the shell and lead to flaking or crazing. Extreme temperatures also can impact protective properties. Chemicals found in some paints, paint thinners, cleaning agents, and even insect repellant can interfere with the integrity of the shell and may eliminate electrical resistance, and therefore these should never be applied to a cap.

Finally, inspect the suspension. Check to ensure that fabric is not frayed or torn and plastic parts are not cracked or damaged. If the suspension exhibits signs of wear, replace it immediately. A cap's suspension must be replaced with one from the same manufacturer to ensure it meets protection criteria, because shells and suspensions are tested to perform as a complete system.

While ANSI and CSA do not regulate the service life of protective caps, the industry recommends replacing a hard hat shell every five years and suspension every 12 months from its first day of service. Noting a cap's first day of service on its label is an easy way to track its service life.

Protecting workers from potential hazards to the head should be a top safety priority for every employer. If your site contains any such hazards, it is important to understand how fit, comfort, and design contribute to proper hard hat wear and positive outcomes. Providing the appropriate level of protection and encouraging workers to wear hard hats wherever needed are excellent first steps toward building a lasting and successful culture of safety.

This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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