If you work at or visit a construction site where head injuries can result from falling objects or heavy equipment, you’ll need to wear a hard hat.
That’s because there are dozens of rules from ANSI and OSHA to help keep workers safe on the job. To help navigate all of those safety rules and regulations relating to head gear, below we have answered or addressed some of the most-asked questions about hard hats to help ensure your safety on the job.
Today’s hard hats are made from high-density polyethylene (PE) plastic. PE has a high strength-to-density ratio and is widely used in everything from plastic bottles to bulletproof vests. The structure of a hard hat consists of two parts; the outer shell and the interior suspension, or harness, which is made of woven strips of nylon webbing and molded bands of PE, vinyl, or nylon. This suspension harness is adjustable to assure a proper fit.
Hard hats are designed to absorb and spread the force of impact. The hard, outer shell deflects the blow, but the force is dispersed through the interior suspension bands. Since the suspension keeps the shell surface off the wearer’s head so the impact is absorbed by the helmet and not the skull.
All hard hats are not created equal. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) developed a classification system to make sure the headwear meets the demands of the job. Being aware of the types and classes of hard hats will ensure you have maximum protection against the daily risks at a construction site.
The type of hard hat is determined by the type of protection it provides.
In addition to impact and penetration resistance, hard hats are tested for electrical resistance, heat and flammability, and water absorption.
ANSI standards distinguish three helmet classes:
It’s important to note that the proof-tested range of volts is for classification purposes only and is not meant to imply the wearer would not be affected by the voltage.
Although manufacturers typically test and certify their products, employers and employees need to make sure their hard hats are safe, free from defect, and meet the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). A hard hat that meets ANSI standards is OSHA compliant.
Neither OSHA nor ANSI classify hard hats specifically by color. However, many companies employ a color system and over time, an informal color rating system has developed.
As a general rule:
Hard hats expire. The average period of service use is 2 to 5 years, but most manufacturers recommend that the suspension harness be replaced every year. The longest period a hat should be worn is four to five years from the manufacture date.
ANSI standards require that the manufacture date is printed on the hard hat along with the manufacturer name, ANSI standard designation, and the appropriate ANSI class designation (Class G, E, or C). Additionally, it must be noted if the helmet can be worn forwards or backwards (this is done by a symbol consisting of two arrows curving to form a circle) and it must be noted if the hat offers low or high temperature protection (LT or HT), or is high visibility (HV).
If your hard hat does not have the required ANSI information, there is no sure way to know the protection it offers. It may not comply with ANSI or OSHA regulations, and more importantly, it may not offer the protection you need to keep you safe on the construction site.
Additionally, workers should always record the date they first use the hard hat with a permanent marker. This information may be needed in case of injury or accident.
Service use guidelines do not guarantee safety. Regardless of age, if a hat falls more than 10 feet or has been struck forcibly, it should be replaced immediately. Additionally, everyday wear and tear and the ultraviolet rays in sunlight can degrade plastic hard hats. Fortunately, this type of damage is easy to see. A new or good-condition hard hat will have a glossy finish. If it loses its shine or begins to flake or look chalky, the shell is compromised. Once a hat starts to look damaged, it probably is damaged and should be replaced immediately.
Taking care of your headgear will maximize its service use. You should not leave your hat in the car when you’re not working because of possible UV damage. When not in use, store it in a clean, dry setting. Dirt and grime will eventually degrade the finish, so you should clean your hat regularly with mild soap and warm water (other cleaning products may contain ingredients that negatively affect its integrity). Painting your hat or making other alterations can degrade the shell, diminish the protection, and shorten the lifespan of the unit.
You should regularly inspect your gear to make sure it’s structurally sound and performs in the way it is designed.
Wearing a hard hat can protect you from serious injury or death, but only if you wear it the right way. Otherwise, your headgear can actually do more harm than good.
The following guidelines should always be followed:
As a general rule, it’s okay to apply pressure-sensitive stickers or tape with self-adhesive backing to your hard hat as long you keep them at least a half inch from the edge of the hat. ANSI standards do not prohibit hard hat stickers or labels. OSHA standards don’t either, although they specify all headgear must be “maintained in a sanitary and reliable condition.”
OSHA points out that labels and paints may eliminate electrical resistance and can possibly “conceal defects, cracks, penetration, and any damage that would be otherwise readily identifiable.” OSHA goes on to explain that any labels or paint used on hard hats must comply with manufacturer’s instructions, or the employer must demonstrate that the labels do not “reduce the ability to identify defects.”
Aside from personalization, many workers place labels with their names, titles or certifications on their hard hats. Contact information can help with identification in emergency situations and certifications can attest that workers are authorized to be in a restricted work area.
OSHA stipulates “each affected employee shall wear protective helmets when working in areas where there is a potential for injury to the head from falling objects.” This regulation also covers work environments where electrical hazards are present: “protective helmets designed to reduce electrical shock hazard shall be worn by each such affected employee when near exposed electrical conductors which could contact the head.”
OSHA defines affected employees as “employees who are exposed to the hazard(s) identified as a violation in a citation.” The “affected employees” definition was added to clarify that the term, as used in OSHA regulations, applies specifically to those employees put at risk by an identified safety or health hazard cited by an OSHA Compliance Officer.
In a nutshell, if a worker can get hit on the head from falling objects, strike his or her head on fixed workplace structures, or if his or her head can meet up with electrical current, employers must issue hard hats and make sure employees wear them on the job at all times.
OSHA does not list specific occupations or applications where a hard hat is required. Need is based on job responsibilities and head-injury risk. Clearly, some occupations require hard hat protection, including but not limited to:
ANSI updated its performance criteria for head protection in 2014 by adding three main amendments:
OSHA recognized the 2014 changes to ANSI. In general, OSHA and ANSI regulations regarding hard hats align in key points. Compliance in one area typically equates to compliance in the other.
Making sure you have the right hat for the job—and making sure your hat is always in good shape will ensure you have the best protection possible against workplace injuries. Be safe, be smart, and go home every day after work with your good looks and good health intact. If you have any other questions, feel free to reach out to us!
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