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December 27, 2011
It’s All in Your Head

Does your workplace present hazards to your employees’ heads? If so, you need to give them the hard facts on hard hats so they can protect what’s in their heads. Hard hat safety is crucial for initial training and also for refresher training.

First, show employees how to select a hard hat that protects against their job’s hazards. Safety helmets are rated by both type and class.

  • Type I is designed to provide only top impact protection.
  • Type II is designed to provide protection against both top and side impacts.
  • Class E (formerly called Class B) stands for Electrical, and these helmets are tested to 20,000 volts to reduce the danger of high voltage.
  • Class G (formerly called Class A) stands for General and is only tested to 2,200 volts, so these helmets offer only minimal electrical protection.
  • Class C stands for Conductive, and this class is not intended to provide protection from electrical conductors.
Why It Matters...
  • A U.S. Department of Labor survey noted that most workers who suffered impact injuries to the head were not wearing head protection.
  • The same survey showed that the majority of workers were injured while performing their normal jobs at their regular worksites.
  • The survey noted that more than one-half of the workers were struck on the head while they were looking down and almost three-tenths were looking straight ahead.
  • While one-third of the unprotected workers were injured when bumping into stationary objects, such actions injured only one-eighth of hard hat wearers.

Also explain to employees how to properly take care of their hard hats so their hats can continue to take care of them. Employees must:

  • Inspect for damage or wear before and after each use.
  • Adjust the headband so the hat doesn’t touch your head.
  • Don’t throw, bang, or scrape the hat.
  • Remove and wash the sweatband periodically.
  • Clean the hat occasionally. Dip it in hot, soapy water, then scrub, rinse, and dry.
  • Store in a safe place away from heat and sun.

Instruct your employees to replace their hard hat if:

  • It took a heavy blow, even if it doesn’t look damaged.
  • It has a cracked, broken, or punctured shell.
  • The headband is stretched or worn.

Answering common questions is also a good method for initial and refresher training. Here are some Q&As:

Q: Can you wear it backwards?

A: The short answer is no. Many manufacturers have tested Type I hard hats according to ANSI Z89.1-1997 standards. The design of the crown impacts the performance of the hard hat when worn backward. Type I hard hats that have a symmetrical crown are most likely to meet the standards. In order for the hard hat to perform and pass the ANSI 189.1-1997 test requirements, the suspension system must be reversed. The headband with the brow pad must still be against the forehead and the extended nape strap at the base of the skull. The suspension is worn in the forward, normal position and only the shell is worn backward. Additionally, most Type II helmets cannot be worn backwards because of the asymmetrical pattern used in the design to provide protection from impacts to the sides as well as the front and rear of the helmet.

Q: Can you put stickers or markings on it?

A: Many people like to personalize their helmets or hard hats with stickers or engrave their name into the helmet material. Adhesive stickers usually do not chemically react with helmet material, so there is little potential to affect performance under normal conditions. However, stickers should be kept to a minimum to ensure that the hard hat may be adequately inspected for any signs of damage or aging, such as cracks. To do this, keep stickers at least 3/4 inch away from the edge of the helmet. This is where signs of damage typically occur first. If any surface cracks—however small—appear on the shell surface, the helmet should be removed from service and replaced immediately.

Can you engrave the surface of the hat?

A: Engraving identification data on the underside of the brim of the hard hat will not adversely affect the helmet’s performance; however, engraving must be restricted to the brim. This is because engraving, cutting with a knife, or drilling holes near the crown area or the suspension key sockets may result in failure of the helmet to provide protection during an impact. This could result in severe injury or even death.

Can you wear something under it?

A: The effectiveness of a hard hat may be reduced by wearing or placing objects, such as a baseball cap, underneath. There are currently no requirements or tests to examine how objects worn inside a hard hat may affect performance. You should never carry or place anything inside a hard hat. Clearance must be maintained between the hard hat shell and the wearer’s head for the protection system to work properly. A baseball cap or other object may limit this clearance. Additionally, a cap or other object may contain metal parts, such as a metal button, which may reduce the electrical protection provided by the hard hat. Objects should never be placed above or below the crown straps because this will affect the performance of the hard hat. Note that some products, such as fabric winter liners or cotton sunshades, are designed to work in conjunction with hard hats and are acceptable.

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