If the hard hat has sustained an impact, dispose of it immediately, even if the damage is not visible.

Twelve Frequent Hard Hat Questions

If the hard hat has sustained an impact, dispose of it immediately, even if the damage is not visible.

Protecting employees from potential head injuries is a key element of a safety program in virtually all industries. The primary reasons for an organization to require hard hats in the work environment is to help protect employees from head trauma from objects falling from above; bumping into fixed objects, such as pipes or beams; or contact with electrical hazards. Head protection also can serve to help protect employees from splashes, rain, high heat, and exposure to ultraviolet light.

In this article, we will discuss many of the frequently asked questions related to hard hats.

When Is a Hard Hat Required?
OSHA requires, in 29 CFR 1910.135, that if the following hazardous conditions are present, then head protection is required:

  • Objects might fall from above and strike employees on the head
  • There is potential for employees to bump their heads against fixed objects, such as exposed pipes or beams
  • There is a possibility of accidental head contact with electrical hazards

Other countries or organizations may have additional requirements, but most regulations are hazard based and start with a thorough workplace hazard assessment.

What Industry Standard or Approval Do Hard Hats Need?
This can vary by country or global region because there are various standards in place. In North America, the current standards are the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Standard for Head Protection, Z89.1 (current version is 2009) and the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Industrial Protective Headwear, Z94.1 (current version is 2005). These two standards share the “Type” and “Class” descriptors, which makes it easier to ensure that the right hard hats are selected for your application. However, as you will see below, the tests are slightly different, so a hard hat manufacturer must test to all standards that it chooses to meet, based upon the markets in which it wants to sell.

Type 1. ANSI: Helmets are intended to reduce the force of impact from a blow only to the top of the head; CSA: Headwear that provides impact and penetration protection for the crown (area over the top portion of the head) only.

Type 2. ANSI: Helmets are intended to reduce the force of impact resulting from a blow to the top or sides of the head; CSA: Headwear that provides impact and penetration protection for the crown and laterally.

Class C. ANSI: Helmets not intended to provide protection against contact with electrical hazards (conductive); CSA: Headwear does not provide dielectric protection.

Class G. ANSI: Helmets intended to reduce the danger of contact with low-voltage conductors (proof-tested at 2,200 volts); CSA: Headwear is non-conducting and is required to pass the dielectric strength test of 2,200 volts for 1 minute. (Dielectric strength is defined by CSA as the ability of a material or configuration of materials to resist the passage of electric current.)

Class E. ANSI: Helmets intended to reduce the danger of contact with higher voltage conductors (proof-tested at 20,000 volts); CSA: Headwear is non-conducting and is required to pass the dielectric strength test of 20,000 volts for 3 minutes.

What Are the ANSI and CSA Head Protection Standard Testing Requirements?
The ANSI standard for head protection (Z89.1) requires flammability, force transmission, apex penetration, and electrical insulation testing for all Type I and Type II hard hats. In addition, for Type II hard hats only, the standard requires impact energy attenuation, off-center penetration, and chin-strap tests. Finally there are optional tests that a manufacturer can choose to test to, such as high visibility, low temperature, and reverse wearing.

The CSA Standard (Z94.1) tests for Type 1 and Type 2 hard hats include dielectric strength, impact attenuation, penetration resistance, passive retention, shell flammability, and liner ignition resistance (typically only Type 2 for lateral impact). The CSA standard also has optional tests, such as tests for reverse orientation.

Both ANSI and CSA standards have requirements for pre-conditioning of test samples in various conditions, including hot and cold temperatures. The ANSI standard requires hot conditioning at 49 degrees C and cold conditioning at -18 degrees C (optional lower temperature of -30 degrees C), whereas the CSA standard requires hot conditioning at 50 degrees C and cold conditioning at -30 degrees C.

How Do I Know What Standards My Hard Hat Meets?
Permanent labels or markings are required on hard hats by both the ANSI and the CSA head protection standards.

ANSI Standard labels: Name or identification mark of manufacturer, date of manufacture, ANSI/ISEA Z89.1, applicable Type, applicable Class, approximate headsize or range. Optional markings: Reverse donning, Lower Temperature (LT), High Visibility (HV).

CSA Standard labels: Manufacturer’s identity, model designation, Type, Class, reverse orientation mark (if applicable), year and month of manufacture, size or size range, user warning.

Both standards also require instructions for use to be supplied with the hard hat; be sure to review these prior to using your hard hat.

Can I Mix and Match Different Suspensions and Shells?
The manufacturer of the hard hat is responsible for conducting the ANSI, CSA, or other tests, and the two primary components (shell and suspension) are tested as a unit to meet the standards. Sometimes suspensions are tested with various shells within one manufacturer to ensure compatibility; check with your manufacturer to determine whether this is the case. Do not interchange suspensions and shells from different manufacturers because they will not have been tested to ensure compliance with the standards and would likely void certification.

How Do I Clean and Store My Hard Hat?
Mild soap and warm water is usually the best way to clean the hard hat and suspension. Thoroughly rinse and wipe or air dry the hard hat after washing. For tar, sap, and other materials that may not come off using this method, we recommend replacing that component because using abrasives or solvents to remove these materials may weaken the shell or suspension.

Hard hats should be stored in a clean area that is protected from contamination, damage, dirt, debris, product distortion, and direct sunlight. Do not store them next to furnaces, ovens, or other sources of high heat. Do not store on the dashboard of a vehicle or other locations where the hard hat may be exposed to direct sunlight.

How Long Will a Hard Hat Last?
Being a manufacturer, this is probably our most frequent question. In order to meet standards such as CSA and ANSI, the products must be well designed and the materials of construction are quite durable. However, they will not last forever. Work environment variables, such as sunlight exposure, temperature extremes, chemical exposure, and daily versus occasional use, will play a part in determining the need to replace the hard hat.

Hard hats subjected to more wear and tear or used outdoors in direct sunlight may need to be replaced more frequently. Daily inspections are the best way to determine when to replace a hard hat shell, suspension, or the entire unit. Follow the manufacturer’s replacement recommendations for the specific hard hat used. 3M’s suggested replacement is based on service life (based on when the hard hat was placed into service, not the manufacture date)--suspension at least every 12 months, shell at least every two to five years.

Do I Need to Replace My Hard Hat If It Sustains an Impact?
Yes. If the hard hat has sustained an impact, dispose of it immediately, even if the damage is not visible. Once the hard hat has been impacted, the materials may be weakened and may no longer provide its intended impact and penetration resistance.

What Should I Look for When Inspecting a Hard Hat?
The shell and suspension should be inspected daily before use--look for cracks, dents, and cuts/gauges in the shell. Check the suspension for cut or frayed straps, cracks, or tears in the plastic. For hard hats exposed to heat, sunlight, or chemicals, the shell may become chalky, dull, or have a crazing pattern or be less flexible (compare a new and used hard hat by flexing the brim). If any of these characteristics is exhibited, replace the hard hat shell and/or suspension immediately. Hard hats struck by an object should be replaced immediately (both shell and suspension). Most hard hats have “molded in” dates of manufacture. Check the date codes on shells and suspensions and ensure parts have not exceeded their maximum life as specified by the manufacturer.

What About Stickers and Painting the Hard Hat Shell?
Pressure sensitive, non-metallic stickers or tape with self-adhesive backing are acceptable on most of today’s hard hats. However there are some general guidelines to follow: Do not use stickers to cover up hard hat damage, and place stickers at least ½ inch from the helmets edge. Hard hat shells should not be painted unless you receive specific approval by the manufacturer.

What Can I Wear Beneath My Hard Hat?
Bandanas, skull-caps, hoods, or welder’s caps that do not contain metal parts should be used only if they are worn smoothly on the top of the head. Care should be taken to avoid pressure points because the suspension should still be adjusted to provide a snug and comfortable fit.

Baseball-style caps should not be worn; they will interfere with the ability of the suspension to work properly during an impact. Winter liners can be worn but should be inspected to ensure they do not adversely affect the proper fit or function of the hard hat.

What Are the Key Hard Hat Warnings to Communicate?

  • Do not store objects between the suspension and the shell of the hard hat because they may affect the protection capabilities of the unit.
  • Prolonged exposure to sunlight will degrade most plastic shells. Do not store them in direct sunlight when not in use.
  • Do not use paints, solvents, chemicals, adhesives, gasoline or similar substances on this hard hat.
  • If the hard hat has sustained an impact, dispose of it immediately, even if the damage is not visible.
  • Inspect your hard hat shell and suspension frequently.
  • To provide maximum protection, the hard hat must fit securely on the head and the suspension should be adjusted to a snug fit.
  • Never alter, puncture, modify, or engrave the shell or suspension of a hard hat.

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

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