Hard Hat Selection & Maintenance

Hard Hat Required Caution Sign

Workers in many professions must wear hard hats on the job. Construction workers, electricians, firefighters, welders and many others use this personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect their heads from falling or flying objects and from electrical hazards.

OSHA requires that employers provide their employees with head protection when the following hazards exist:

  • The potential for injury to the head from falling objects.
  • The potential for electrical shock when working near exposed electrical conductors.

Additionally, hard hats can protect workers from bumping their heads against objects like pipes or beams.

When it comes to specific requirements for this head protection, OSHA instructs employers to comply with ANSI/ISEA Z.89.1, the American National Standard for Industrial Head Protection. This standard is updated every five years, and the most recent revision was just published in June of 2014.

The ANSI standard addresses issues of hard hat construction, recommendations for wearing hard hats, information about hard hat care, testing methods that manufacturers must follow and resilience to high and low temperatures. Manufacturers must certify that their products have passed the required durability tests (this will be marked on the hard hat’s label).

So which type of hard hat is needed for your worksite? Let’s take a look at the options.

Hard Hat Types and Classes

Multiple categories of hard hats exist, but each one belongs to a type and a class. There are two hard hat types: Type I and Type II. The type of hard hat refers to the helmet’s ability to protect from impacts. Type I hard hats are designed only to withstand top impacts, while Type II hard hats can withstand impacts from the top and the side.

hard hat, PPE, head protection
Those who work near electrical hazards need the appropriate class of hard hat.

Each hard hat also belongs to a class, which refers to the hat’s ability to withstand electric shocks. There are three classes of hard hat: Class C, Class G and Class E. Class C is conductive, meaning the hard hat will not protect the wearer from electrical hazards. Class G, which stands for “General,” means the helmet can withstand an electrical current up to 2,200 volts. Class E, for “Electrical,” refers to helmets that provide the highest level of electrical protection, withstanding currents up to 20,000 volts, explains Occupational Health and Safety.

The type(s) and class(es) of hard hat needed at your worksite, then, will depend on what kinds of hazards exist. If impact hazards from all sides are common, you’ll need the added protection of Type II hard hats. If your site doesn’t deal with any electrical hazards, though, you can opt for Class C or Class G helmets instead of Class E. Do a hazard assessment if you aren’t sure what kinds of impact and electrical hazards are present.

Additional Hard Hat Characteristics to Consider

Beyond knowing what type and class of hard hat your site needs, you’ll also need to take other parts of the hard hat into consideration. First, there’s the hard hat’s material. Most hard hats are made of plastic, which is suitable for most uses. For jobs where molten metal is present, for example, a fiberglass hard hat would be more appropriate, though.

head protection, PPE
A hard hat’s suspension is an important feature to consider.

The suspension of the hard hat is the internal portion that actually touches an employee’s head and prevents impacts from causing harm. Different types of suspension are available: pin-lock and ratchet mechanisms. The first functions like a belt, while the second involves turning a knob to adjust the fit. Ratchet suspensions allow users to adjust the hard hat without removing it, so think about whether that’s something that would benefit your employees. Hard hats are also made with a certain number of suspension points (four, six or eight), and the more suspension points a hat has, the more the it can spread out the force of an impact.

Some hard hats also have built-in ventilation, padding or the ability to withstand very hot or cold temperatures. Generally, hard hats are only approved for wearing with the bill facing forward, but some are certified by manufacturers for wearing backwards. Some workers find this method of wearing a hard hat more convenient because it allows them to more easily work in small spaces, so if that is a feature you need, look for hard hats that are approved for wearing backwards and forwards.

head protection, floor sign

Caring for Hard Hats

Like most PPE, it’s advisable to check hard hats for possible damage both before and after use. Plastic generally does a good job protecting the head, but it does wear over time. If your workers observe any cracks or anything else unusual on the plastic, it’s time to find a replacement helmet.

Hard hats need to be cleaned regularly, but make sure to do so with only water and mild soap. Harsh cleaners can damage the plastic and the hard hat’s integrity.

Once the hard hat is clean, store it properly, which basically means don’t leave in it the sun. UV rays can also damage plastic.

When to Retire a Hard Hat

Hard hats don’t last forever, so in addition to checking for damage on a regular basis, workers and safety managers should know how frequently to replace hard hats. Refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines for how long a hard hat will last. Also keep in mind that you can sometimes replace part of a hard hat system and keep using it. If you do this, the suspension should be replaced approximately once per year, and the plastic shell should be replaced every two to five years (depending on the type of hat).

Also remember that when a hard hat sustains an impact, it needs to be retired immediately. Even if it doesn’t appear to have any damage from the impact, the hard hat’s suspension has been stretched and will not fully protect the wearer from future impacts.

More Hard Hat Tips

Finally, hard hat wearers should keep the following tips in mind so hard hats stay in the best condition possible for as long as possible and so workers’  heads are properly protected:

  • Don’t drill holes in the helmet (for ventilation or any other reason).
  • Don’t put stickers too close to the helmet’s brim (they could act as conductors).
  • Don’t wear a baseball cap underneath the hardhat (this will prevent the hat from providing full protection).
  • If you wear a bandana, welder’s cap or other cloth beneath your hard hat, make sure it is flat against your head so the helmet’s suspension can easily fit over it.

For more advice about selecting appropriate PPE for your workplace, take a look at this blog post.

Additional Resources