Helmets have been used by humans since ancient times, but it wasn't until the last 100 years that they evolved from warfare-exclusive use into the universal symbol for work that we know today.
It all started in the early 20th century when protective caps began being used for worker protection during the Hoover Dam (1931) and Golden Gate Bridge (1933) construction projects. Hard hat use expanded to mining and shipyard operations shortly after. Since then, hard hats have become a staple for workplace safety and protection. OSHA now mandates that anyone in danger of an impact head injury, falling or flying objects, or electrical shock and burns, should be protected by a protective helmet (OSHA 2012).
Nowadays, people across all industries use hard hats, rendering them one of the most commonplace, yet easily overlooked, pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE). Head protection has been mandated by OSHA since 1974, and the use of Hazard Assessments to aid PPE choice was added to the standard in 1994.
As with any PPE, hard hats are only as effective as the user makes them. In this article, we go into basic hard hat anatomy, general inspection criteria, common misconceptions, and how to care for that helmet of yours.
Hard Hat Anatomy
The two major parts of a hard hat, the shell and the suspension, both require inspection during assembly and before each use. To provide maximum protection, your suspension and helmet sizes must match in order for your helmet to fit securely on your head (MSA 2010).
The protective "exoskeleton" of the hard hat, the shell is the layer that shields your head from impact, splashes, and sun rays.
The suspension is the adjustable "head harness" that keeps the shell in place. A firm and snug fit ensures the helmet stays in place when confronted with variable work conditions.
Hard Hat Types and Classes
Hard hats have different "Types" and "Classes" to help you identify what they are designed to protect you against.
Type I - Designed to protect workers from falling objects and impact that strikes the top of a helmet from above.
Type II - Designed to protect from blows and objects coming from the side or laterally. Protection extends to the front, back, side, and top. These are tested for off-center penetration resistance and chin strap retention.
Class E (Electrical) - Can withstand 20,000 volts of electricity.
Class G (General) - Can withstand 2,200 volts of electricity.
Class C (Conductive) - No protection from electric shock.
General Inspection Rules
Before and after each use, every hard hat should be inspected for any wear or damage that might have accrued. A general inspection process should be:
1. Look at the shell of the hat for any breakage, cracks, craze patterns, discoloring, chalky appearance, or anything that appears out of the norm.
2. Inspect the suspension for loss of flexibility, cracks, breaks, frays, or damaged stitching.
3. Ask the worker wearing the hat if any impact or penetration occurred during their time using it.
4. If any of these conditions exist, replace the suspension or shell immediately (MSA 2010).
Wearing a hard hat doesn't make you invincible, and downplaying the importance of wearing one can potentially cost you or your workers their life. These are some of the common misconceptions we often hear:
Misconception: "I can wear a ball cap underneath my helmet."
Reality: No matter how tempting it is to support your favorite team, wearing a baseball cap underneath your hard hat can seriously interfere with your suspension.
Misconception: "My hard hat is built to outlive me."
Reality: As your high school crush proved, nothing lasts forever. Helmets are no different; they eventually wear down due to exposure. Mine Safety Appliances recommends replacing your helmet's suspension every year and your entire helmet every five years.
Misconception: "The prettier the helmet, the better."
Reality: Although a bedazzled helmet may impress your coworkers, keep it to your car and outside-of-work attire. Your hard hat is not the place to decorate with paint or stickers. Chemicals found in paint or sticker adhesives can a. damage the shell and b. prevent you from seeing cracks or damage underneath (OSHA Training).
How to Care for Your Helmet
Regularly scheduled maintenance sessions with your helmet make all the difference. Follow these steps to make sure your helmet is well cared for.
• Clean your helmet regularly (as often as you inspect it, which should be with every use). Avoid harsh detergent; use mild soap and warm water when cleaning it.
• Avoid dropping, throwing, or using your helmet to sit on or as support.
Safety rated hard hats are not to be used as a vehicular or sports helmet.
• Never store personal belongings, such as cigarettes or earplugs, in between the suspension or shell. These objects can transmit a large force to the head and neck, causing serious injury or death.
• Completely avoid using paints, solvents, or hydrocarbon-type cleaners (ex: M.E.K., thinner, gasoline, kerosene). These substances can cause unnoticeable damage.
• When you're done with your helmet for the day, store it in clean, dry area that does not exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
• Establish and maintain a replacement program for your hard hats, and all your PPE. Keep detailed purchase records and damage reports to keep track equipment lifecycles (MSA 2010).
If you're looking for hard hats, helmets, or other PPE to keep you and your workers safe, ORR Safety offers a wide selection for any industry. Click the button below to start shopping today!
OSHA (2012) Head protection 1926.100. Retrieved from: https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=standards&p_id=10663
MSA (2010) Instructions, Warnings, and Cautions for Type I Helmets. Retrieved from: https://info.orrsafety.com/hubfs/Content_Offers/Type%20I%20Helmets%20-%20Instructions%20Warnings%20Cautions%20-%20EN.pdf
OSHA Training (2012) Answers to Top Five Questions about Hard Hats. Retrieved from http://www.oshatraining.com/osha-hard-hat-questions-blog.php