Hard hats in the workplace are probably one of the most recognizable pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) and are absolutely vital to the protection of workers. Protecting employees from potential head injuries should always be considered a key element of safety programs in virtually all industries. Unfortunately, this critical piece of protective gear is rarely part of an inspection, maintenance or replacement program.
Hard hats in industrial work environments help to protect employees from head trauma from falling objects, bumping into fixed objects such as pipes or beams, or through contact with electrical hazards. A serious head injury can cause brain damage, paralysis or even death, and it is the responsibility of both employers and workers to follow strict guidelines as to the use of protective head equipment. In most incidents reported, those workers who were injured were either not wearing their hard hat or worked in an environment where the use of hard hats was not mandatory or enforced.
Hard Hat Types
In Canada, industrial headgear is divided into three classes. They are classified based on the headgear's protective abilities, in addition to the industry in which it will be used. It is important to refer to the CSA Standard and the legislation that applies to your region. American National Standards Institute (ANSI) classifications are similar to CSA, although some of the testing criteria are different.
Classes of headgear include:
Type 1 - protection from impact and penetration at the top
Type 2 - protection from impact and penetration at the top and the sides
Each type is also available in the following classes:
Class E (20 000 V electrical rating) - non-conducting material (electrical trades)
Class G (2200 V electrical rating) - non-conducting material (general trades)
Class C (no electrical rating)
Authorized hard hats should always include CSA Standard labels that indicate the manufacturer’s identity, model designation, type, class, reverse orientation mark (if applicable), year and month of manufacture, size or size range and a user warning.
Structure & Fit
There are two equally important components of any hard hat – the rigid outer shell and the interior suspension webbing. These components work together as a system to provide optimal fit and protection to the wearer.
- Hardhat gear should always be purchased based on the specific requirements and hazards of a particular workplace. These may include top or side impact potential, sun and weather conditions, exposure to chemicals or the need for chinstraps, goggles, face shields or hearing protection.
- To provide maximum protection, hard hats must fit securely. Adjust the headband so that the headwear will stay on when the wearer is bending over, but not so tight that it leaves marks on the skin.
- For best performance and fit, be sure to use your own hard hat and don’t borrow one from a co-worker
- Never put anything between the suspension web and the outer shell. There must be a clearance space inside the headwear (1” – 1.5”) in order for it to effectively absorb the shock when struck with an object. This space also allows for air ventilation throughout.
- Do not interchange suspensions and shells from different headgear manufacturers. They will not have been tested to ensure compliance with safety standards.
- Bandanas, hoods, skull or welders caps and winter liners can be worn under hard hats if they do not contain any metal parts and if they are worn smoothly
- Do not wear baseball style hats under headwear, as they will interfere with the suspension system
- Do not pull the chinstrap over the brim or peak of protective headwear as it tends to affect the overall impact integrity
- Only wear hard hats with the peak at the back, if the suspension has been adjusted appropriately (nape strap remains at the back of the head) and that the manufacturer ensures that the headwear was designed to be worn this way
Maintenance & Replacement
Although your protective headgear looks rugged and indestructible, it needs to be well-maintained and replaced regularly if you want it to provide maximum, and consistent, protection.
- Outer shell material should be inspected routinely for dents, cracks, gouges, and any other damage due to impact, penetration, abrasions, rough treatment or regular wear, that might reduce the degree of protection required
- Hard hats should always be replaced if they receive any substantial impact. Often, damage to the plastic structure can’t be seen with the naked eye, so it’s always good practice to replace right away.
- Degradation of the thermoplastic shell material can happen due to normal wear and environmental conditions. If your headgear becomes stiff, brittle, faded, dull in color or chalky in appearance, it should be replaced, even if it hasn’t reached its expiry date yet.
- Most manufacturers recommend replacing protective headgear every five years, regardless of its outward appearance. If work conditions include exposure to higher temperature extremes, sunlight or chemicals, then they should be replaced after two years of use. In some cases, manufacturers suggest replacing the shell and suspensions at different times (as frequently as every 12 months), depending on usage. Be sure to consult with the manufacturer for your own specific circumstances.
- The suspension system is just as important for safety as the outer shell, and must also be inspected regularly. Look closely for cracked or torn adjustment slots, frayed material or other signs of damage. These conditions can be caused by perspiration, hair oils, or just normal wear-&-tear. Like the shell, the suspension will have to be replaced occasionally.
- To clean your hard hat, immerse it in hot water and mild detergent, then scrub and rinse with clean water. Wipe or air dry once you have finished. Keeping your hat clean and free of dirt, mould and germs, increases its life.
- Although most manufacturers add an ultraviolet inhibitor to the shell material of hard hats, they are still susceptible to ultraviolet light damage. Never store your headgear on the dash of a vehicle or in direct sunlight, as this is the quickest way to degrade the plastic.
- Do not drill holes, engrave, alter or modify the shell or suspension in any way. Alterations may reduce the structural integrity and protection provided by the headwear.
- Do not use harsh solvents, chemicals or similar substances on hard hats as cleaning agents
- Pressure sensitive stickers or tape with self-adhesive backing are OK to use on hard hats, provided they are non-metallic. Be sure though not to cover up any damage with them. Hardhat shells should not be painted unless specifically approved by the manufacturer.
Policies & Training
Any workplace that requires the use of hard hats, should have a well-defined program in-place to establish and enforce standards for:
- Regular reviews of work and environmental conditions
- Determination of hat types for workers across all job functions
- Manufacturer communication
- Fit testing
- Site visitor protection
Ultimately, everyone bears some responsibility for ensuring proper head protection on job sites. Be sure to ALWAYS wear and maintain your hard hat to help save your head, or even your life.