Protecting employees from potential head injuries is a key element of any safety program. A head injury can impair an employee for life or it can be fatal. Wearing a safety helmet or hard hat is one of the easiest ways to protect an employee's head from injury. Hard hats can protect employees from impact and penetration hazards as well as from electrical shock and burn hazards.
Employers must ensure that their employees wear head protection if any of the following apply:
- Objects might fall from above and strike them on the head;
- They might bump their heads against fixed objects, such as exposed pipes or beams; or
- There is a possibility of accidental head contact with electrical hazards.
Some examples of occupations in which employees should be required to wear head protection include construction workers, carpenters, electricians, linemen, plumbers and pipefitters, timber and log cutters, welders, among many others. Whenever there is a danger of objects falling from above, such as working below others who are using tools or working under a conveyor belt, head protection must be worn. Hard hats must be worn with the bill forward to protect employees properly.
In general, protective helmets or hard hats should do the following:
- Resist penetration by objects.
- Absorb the shock of a blow.
- Be water-resistant and slow burning.
- Have clear instructions explaining proper adjustment and replacement of the suspension and headband.
Hard hats must have a hard outer shell and a shock-absorbing lining that incorporates a headband and straps that suspend the shell from 1 to 1 1/4 inches (2.54 cm to 3.18 cm) away from the head. This type of design provides shock absorption during an impact and ventilation during normal wear.
Types of Hard Hats
There are many types of hard hats available in the marketplace today. In addition to selecting protective headgear that meets ANSI standard requirements, employers should ensure that employees wear hard hats that provide appropriate protection against potential workplace hazards. It is important for employers to understand all potential hazards when making this selection, including electrical hazards. This can be done through a comprehensive hazard analysis and an awareness of the different types of protective headgear available.
Hard hats are divided into three industrial classes:
- Class A hard hats provide impact and penetration resistance along with limited voltage protection (up to 2,200 volts).
- Class B hard hats provide the highest level of protection against electrical hazards, with high-voltage shock and burn protection (up to 20,000 volts). They also provide protection from impact and penetration hazards by flying/falling objects.
- Class C hard hats provide lightweight comfort and impact protection but offer no protection from electrical hazards.
Another class of protective headgear on the market is called a "bump hat," designed for use in areas with low head clearance. They are recommended for areas where protection is needed from head bumps and lacerations. These are not designed to protect against falling or flying objects and are not ANSI approved. It is essential to check the type of hard hat employees are using to ensure that the equipment provides appropriate protection. Each hat should bear a label inside the shell that lists the manufacturer, the ANSI designation and the class of the hat.
Hard hats with any of the following defects should be removed from service and replaced:
- Perforation, cracking, or deformity of the brim or shell;
- Indication of exposure of the brim or shell to heat, chemicals or ultraviolet light and other radiation (in addition to a loss of surface gloss, such signs include chalking or flaking).
Always replace a hard hat if it sustains an impact, even if damage is not noticeable. Suspension systems are offered as replacement parts and should be replaced when damaged or when excessive wear is noticed. It is not necessary to replace the entire hard hat when deterioration or tears of the suspension systems are noticed.