PPE – Focus of the Month – Hard Hats
Are Hard Hats Necessary?
Injuries to the head due to falling objects or bump hazards are often serious and have been known to be fatal. Wearing hard hats not only protects the top of your head, it can also protect your eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. Too often employees perceive the hard hat as just “something else they make me wear” and fail to recognize the full importance of this critical piece of personal protective equipment.
In a study conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many employees who suffered impact injuries to the head were not wearing hard hats while performing their normal job duties. In addition, this same survey showed that most of these same employees were not required to wear hard hats by their employers. The Occupational Safety and Health Standard, Personal Protective Equipment, 1910.135(a)(1) states; The employer shall ensure that each affected employee wears a protective helmet when working in areas where there is a potential for injury to the head from falling objects. The injured employees’ injuries would have been less severe if their employers had performed a hazard analysis and required the employees to wear hard hats.
In addition, 1910.135(a)(2) states; The employer shall ensure that a protective helmet designed to reduce electrical shock hazard is worn by each such affected employee when near exposed electrical conductors which could contact the head, to comply with hard hat regulations.
What does that tell us? It really does not matter if employees don’t recognize the importance of hard hat safety. The employers must take steps to protect them, like it or not. This can be done by requiring the use of hard hats.
When are hard hats required?
- If there is a possibility that a falling object may strike the employee on the head.
- Where fixed or protruding objects may lead to the employee striking his or her head against such object.
- Where electrical hazards exist that the employee’s head may contact.
How do hard hats protect us?
There are a variety of ways this simple device can prevent injuries.
The first feature that most of us recognize immediately is the rigid shell designed to resist and/or deflect blows to the head. Think about falling objects striking the hard hat instead of the head. This is pretty simple to understand, right?
The second feature, the suspension system, is also pretty apparent but is sometimes not completely understood. This system is designed to be a sort of shock absorber maintaining a safe distance between the head and the shell; approximately an inch to an inch and a half. However, employees will occasionally use this area to store such things as cigarettes, lighters, keys, etc. This defeats the purpose of the safety zone and may lead to a serious injury if these stored materials are forced into the skull in the event the hard hat is struck by a falling object.
The third feature is to serve as an insulator against electrical shock. However, not all hard hats provide this protection and those working with or near electrical hazards must ensure they have the properly rated hard hat prior to beginning work.
The fourth feature of a hard hat is often overlooked. Hard hats can prevent splashes, drips and or spills from touching your scalp. In addition, the brim helps to prevent spilled or splashed liquids from running into your eyes. Therefore, wearing the hard hat with the brim to the back renders this feature useless.
There are times, though, when there is a good reason to wear the hard hat backwards. The brim can deflect liquids from going down the worker’s neck, or because of clearance issues in a tight space. If the manufacturer allows hard hats to be worn backwards, then it is acceptable to do so. Just make sure that you follow the manufacturer’s directions for reversing the hard hat, which usually means that the suspension needs to be reversed, too.
Hard hats can also be very helpful in the implementation of additional PPE such as face shields, goggles, and hearing protection. Purchasing a face shield that mounts to the hard hat, instead of one designed to fit directly on the head, allows the employee to protect his or her face without sacrificing the protection a hard hat provides.
Now that you have decided to require the use of hard hats, are you done?
Actually, you have just started! By requiring the use of hard hats you must now train your employees how to wear, maintain, and inspect them. If the shell is cracked, deformed, or perforated, it must be taken out of service. Other signs of damage include a dull surface or flaking and or chalking of the shell. Hard hats must be inspected daily and replaced if damaged or expired. Yes, they do expire. Check the manufacturer’s specifications for determining the expiration date of your hard hat(s).
Employees must also keep their hard hats clean. Only use soap and water for proper cleaning. Never allow the use of chemical cleaners or solvents, they may weaken the shell and reduce the protective factor.
Your brain is the best PPE you have so be sure to protect it and use it!