Under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers are required to provide a safe and healthful workplace and must protect workers from hazards that can cause injury or illness.
While completely eliminating the workplace hazard is preferable (and the most ideal), sometimes this is not practical. In these situations employers will require employees to use personal protective equipment (PPE) to minimize the hazards that cannot be eliminated.
OSHA regards protecting workers’ heads from injury as a focal point of PPE compliance. Workplace head injuries frequently have serious or fatal consequences, most of which could have been easily prevented with precautionary measures. Safety helmets or hard hats absorb and reduce impact, as well as prevent penetration hazards. Depending on the model, many also protect from burns and electrical shock hazards as well.
Head protection must be worn in the following circumstances:
- If a there is a potential for falling objects.
- If there is a potential for workers to bump or strike their head on objects.
- If there is a potential for accidental head contact with electrical hazards.
Occupations that routinely require head protection, firefighters, carpenters, construction workers, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, timber and log cutters and welders.
An important note regarding this and all PPE, whenever the “potential” for hazards exists, you should select a level of protection greater than the minimum required to guard against possible dangers.
Therefore, even if you don’t see falling objects on a construction site, falling objects are still recognized hazards in that industry. All individuals entering construction zones should don the proper head protection based on known industry hazards.
Many workers become injured when tools or other objects are dropped by employees working above them. Employers should require head protection if employees must walk under conveyor belts or scaffolding or other areas with falling object hazards.
Hard hats are designed to protect heads when the bill is worn in the forward position. Workers should be instructed to keep the hat facing forward and not to use it differently than intended by the manufacturer.
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.
Equipped with a durable, hard outer shell to protect against blows, hard hats also absorb shock. The straps that suspend the shell (usually about 1 to 1¼ inches) away from the head provide impact resistance, absorb shock and offer ventilation.
Protective headgear must meet the most current ANSI Standards or provide an equivalent level of protection.
Types of Hard Hats
With many types of protective headgear available, the employer must make certain that the chosen PPE meets ANSI standards, as well as provides adequate protection against the potential hazards.
In many instances this involves an employer researching various PPE and comparing the specifications to the workplace conditions, as there is a considerable difference in electrical and impact protection amongst headgear.
Hard hats are divided the following industrial classes:
Hard Hat Impact Types
Type I Hard Hats: Intended to reduce the force of impact resulting for a blow only to the top of the head. Most hard hats, except bump caps, are Type I (top impact) hard hats.
Type II Hard Hats: Intended to reduce the force of impact resulting from a blow which may be received off center or to the top of the head. A Type II hard hat typically is lined on the inside with thick high density foam.
Hard Hat Electrical Classes
Class G hard hats: Intended to reduce dangers of contact exposure to low voltage conductors. Test samples are proof tested at 2200 volts (phase to ground). However, this voltage is not intended as an indication of the voltage at which the hard hat protects the wearer. Class G hard hats were formerly known as Class A. Also known as, “General Protection.”
Class E hard hats: Intended to reduce the danger of exposure to high voltage conductors. Test samples are proof-tested at 20,000 volts (phase to ground). However, this voltage is not intended as an indication of the voltage at which the helmet protects the wearer. Class E hard hats were formerly known as Class B.
Class C hard hats: (Or conductive hard hats) are not intended to provide protection against contact with electrical conductors.
Each approved protective headgear must bear a label inside the shell that lists the manufacturer, the ANSI standard designation and the type and class of the hat.
Generally, the label will list the impact type (Type I or Type II) followed by the electrical protection class. An example might be a, “Type I, Class G & Class E” hard hat, which is a type of headgear that protects from top impact blows, and offers some protection against conductive and contact voltage.
If you are looking for a hard hat that meets strict industry standards, consider Matterhorn Hard Hats, available from Bottomline Safety. These comfortable, easy to use and durable head protection devices meet ANSI Type II, Class E standards and are available in a variety of colors and two styles.
If a hard hat sustains an impact, it must be taken out of service, even without any noticeable damage. Replacement parts for suspension systems are offered from vendors and manufacturers. You can replace the suspension system alone—if the shell does not display any other signs of deterioration, cracking or loss of integrity.
Absolutely never allow workers to remove the suspension system and wear the hat without this vital component! The suspension system absorbs impact and is a critical part of the safety features.