We must remember to always wear our hard hats. If they are sitting at a desk, on a work bench, or in a truck, they are definitely not going to protect us.

Essential Care for Essential Protection

Workers and their safety and procurement managers should be familiar with the guidance for keeping a hard hat in fighting trim.

Every type of PPE has a very important job to do, even if some of the hazards the protective equipment protects against may take years, even decades to manifest serious harm to the end user. But hard hats aren’t like that. Used on a daily basis by millions of workers in all types of industries, hard hats are vital protection against lethal hazards, for the most part.

BLS data show there were 65,320 head injuries in U.S. private industry in 2012 that resulted in days away from work for the injured person, accounting for 5 percent of all lost-time injuries in the private sector that year, according to the National Safety Council's Injury Facts®, 2015 edition. The largest numbers of these 2012 lost-time head injuries occurred in education and health services, retail trade, and manufacturing, with about 10,000 in each of those industries. Another 5,720 of them occurred in the construction industry.

With those numbers in mind, wearers and their safety and procurement managers should be familiar with the guidance for keeping a hard hat in fighting trim.

Hard Hat Inspections
Inspecting the shell: Look for cracks, dents, gouges, and any damage that has been caused by impact, abrasions, or rough treatment. Also inspect it for stiffness, brittleness, fading, dull color, or a chalky appearance. If you find any of these or find obvious damage, remove this hard hat from service and replace it. Manufacturers suggest testing a polyethylene shell by compressing it from the sides about 1 inch with both hands, then releasing the pressure; the shell should quickly return to its original shape. If it does not or if it cracks, it should be replaced.

Inspecting the suspension: A hard hat's suspension straps are intended is to absorb the shock of a blow to the top of the hard hat. Inspect the suspension for cracks, tears, frayed or cut straps, loss of pliability, and other signs of wear. A damaged suspension should be removed from service and replaced immediately.

Tips for hard hat inspection, care, and use:

  • Do not store a hard hat in direct sunlight.
  • Clean the shell and suspension system with mild soap and rinse with warm water.
  • Inspect the shell for damage, excess wear, perforations, or cracking. Inspect the suspension straps for cuts, frays, chemical damage, or others sign of wear.
  • Do not drill holes in the shell of a hard hat unless instructed to do so by a manufacturer.
  • Do not use adhesives, paints, or cleaning solvents on your hard hat unless approved by its manufacturer.
  • Do not place any object under the shell or between the suspension and the shell.

Most hard hats are worn outdoors, but the threat of UV damage arises when they are improperly stored rather than when being worn in sunlight. Hard hat manufacturers caution that workers never should leave them leave them in the rear window of a vehicle or anywhere the hard hat would be exposed to sunlight while not in use. UV rays can do significant damage—enough that a recent International Association of Drilling Contractors article, "Taking Care of Your Hard Hat," called UV exposure "the plastic hard hat's worst enemy."1

Key Head Protection Standards
ANSI/ISEA Z89.1-2014 is the American National Standard for Industrial Head Protection. It is the standard referenced in OSHA’s 1910.135 head protection standard, and it establishes the types and classes of protective helmets to protect workers against hazards present in their workplaces.

A Type I (top impact) hard hat is designed to reduce impact force to the top of the head. Type II (top and lateral impact) hard hats reduce impact force to the top of the head and also impact from the side to other parts of the head. Class G designates an all-purpose, general hard hat, while Class E provides maximum protection against high-voltage shock (up to 20,000 volts). Class C (conductive) hard hats provide no protection against electric shock.2

Hard Hat Innovations
We've seen manufacturers offer a variety of sustainable hard hats and one with more back-of-the-head coverage than a standard Type I version offers; this more protective helmet was created to protect workers’ heads in the event of slips on icy or snowy surfaces. Many manufacturers offer hard hats fitted with faceshields for full head and face protection, and one offers a goggle/faceshield combo that is rated for impact and splash, with anti-fog and anti-scratch coatings on the goggle lens.

1. http://www.iadc.org/safety-meeting-topics/taking-care-of-your-hard-hat/
2. https://www.northernsafety.com/news/Article/800571093/different-types-of-hard-hats

This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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