Hard hats aren

A World of New Choices

Traumatic brain injuries account for 22 percent of all work-related injury fatalities. This is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed.

Falling objects are among the most serious workplace hazards. According to the National Safety Council, in 2013 there were well over 69,000 nonfatal head injuries in the private sector alone that resulted in days away from work.

Head injuries are expensive and can affect a company's bottom line. The average total incurred costs for head or CNS (central nervous system) injuries are $78,183 per claim.

Selecting the proper head and face protection is critical to ensuring worker safety. And with the spike in head injuries during the past several years, we've seen a tremendous effort from PPE suppliers to create innovative solutions that enhance technology and elevate protection. There is an assortment of head protection options for safety buyers and managers to choose from, and those options come in a variety of configurations and styles. Hard hat manufacturers have started to consolidate their hard hat lines—focusing on the mechanics and functionality of the features.

With this new streamlined focus, some trends have emerged.

One trend is integrated protection. Hard hats are now starting to build in additional PPE solutions, such as eyewear and hearing protection. This innovation ensures workers are fully protected against changing hazards, including falling objects, flying sparks, chemicals, or excessive noise exposure. Other technologies include visor materials that are not only high-impact rated, but also chemical splash resistant.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating innovations is UV indicator hard hats. These hard hats feature a UV strip on top of the hat that changes color when exposed to excessive sunlight. The change in color indicates to the worker that the hard hat may no longer be suitable or resilient enough to withstand impacts and should be replaced.

New Head Protection Innovations
Head protection doesn't start and stop with hard hats, though. There are several new head accessories to help prevent injuries.

Hard hat liners are becoming increasingly popular. Workers like them because of the functionality that some liners offer. For example, there are liners that help regulate body temperature—keeping workers cool in the summer and warmer in the winter.

There are also Arc Resistant (AR) and Flame Resistant (FR) liners. These liners can fit the head snugly under the suspension of the hard hat, or there are options that function more like a hood.

Balaclavas were once seen as an item that workers would wear only in extreme cold conditions as an extra layer of warmth. Today, the technology has advanced, and the protective properties infused in these pieces can protect against far more than just the cold. For example, there are balaclavas on the market today that combine AR/FR protection with exceptional comfort. Some balaclavas offer inherent flame resistance along with moisture-wicking properties to keep workers dry even on their most active days.

One of the biggest trends in head protection has nothing to do with the hazards hard hats and hard hat accessories protect against, but more about what the color of the hard hat says about the wearer.

We have several customers who use hat colors to distinguish the role of the wearer. For example, a steel mill uses three hat colors in their hard hat color scheme—high-vis orange, yellow, and white. On each side of the hat and on the back, there is a colored stripe that is baked into the hat to identify the wearer's trade. In this manner, they can quickly and easily determine someone's role in the plant without having to ask. If they need a millwright, electrician, operator, or field service person, they simply look for someone with the appropriate color stripe on his cap.

Steel manufacturing facilities are not alone in their use of colored hard hats to segment their workforce. At a turkey processing company, they use different color bump caps to not only differentiate a worker's role, but also his/her level of training. For instance, some workers have markings on their bump caps that indicates they have special training or skills, such as first aid training or the ability to operate a forklift.

Color coding can definitely work as a safety tool in your facility. It can provide consistency and give your workers a sense of security. In case of an emergency, color can allow for quick identification of a worker's role and skill set, making an emergency response faster and more efficient. If you work in a facility where there are a lot of workers with different roles for many different applications, think about how you can use color to help make your employees and their workplace safer.

Safety is the Ultimate Goal
The ultimate goal is to create safety at work and keep workers safe. Traumatic brain injuries account for 22 percent of all work-related injury fatalities. This is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed. Whether it’s with new product developments, finding additional ways such as color coding to enrich PPE effectiveness, or ongoing safety education, we must continue to uncover ways to reduce workplace head injuries. These latest industry trends are a step in the right direction.

Tips for Ensuring Your Hard Hat Does Its Job
Hard hats can seem almost miraculous at times, saving countless employees from serious injuries or even fatalities. It’s important to know how to take care of these hats so that they perform optimally. Here are a few reminders:

  • Inspect the hat regularly and replace parts as necessary.
  • Always replace a helmet after it has withstood an impact or a penetration.
  • Never paint a hard hat. Paint can cover up a deformity, or it could eat away at the hat's shell.
  • Check the hat for brittleness before every use. Flex the brim or squeeze the hat inward about an inch and let go. Listen for any cracking and look for deformities. The hat should be firm but flexible.

Don't be sentimental. Many workers become attached to their hats, associating them with their tenure on the job. Hard hats aren’t meant to last a career. In most cases, they are good for about five years.

This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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