Head protection isn’t something to play around with. Even the most innocent seeming head injury can impair a worker for the rest of his life – or be fatal. Fortunately, head protection is easy to obtain and use, and it's one of the best ways to protect workers from a potentially devastating accident.

Despite this, research conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the majority of workers who suffered impact injuries to the head were not wearing head protection while performing their regular worksite duties.

In light of this, we’ve compiled 10 key things you should know about this important aspect of your PPE program (learn 5 Tips for Designing an Effective PPE Program).

1. Head Protection Is Mandatory for Many Jobs

Workers are required to wear head protection if any of the following apply:

  • Objects could fall from above and strike them on the head
  • They could bump their heads on fixed objects (like exposed pipes or beams)
  • Accidental head contact with electrical hazards is possible

Jobs that commonly require it include:

  • Construction
  • Carpentry
  • Electrical
  • Lineman work
  • Plumbing
  • Pipefitting
  • Log cutting
  • Welding

Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list, and it’s important that employers do a hazard assessment to determine whether workers are at risk of any of the above scenarios and whether head protection is required.

2. Hard Hats Aren’t All Created Equal

There are two types and three different industrial classes of hard hats, and wearing the wrong kind can compromise a worker's protection. It is critical, therefore, to understand the risks they’re facing and select the head protection to match them.

  • Type I: Intended to reduce the force of impact from a blow to the top of the head only (for example, from a hammer falling from above)
  • Type II: Intended to reduce the force of lateral impact from a blow received from off-center, the side, or the top of the head (for example, contact with the sharp corner of a side beam)
  • Class G (formerly Class A): General use hard hats that protect against low-voltage electrical conductors (up to 2,200 volts)
  • Class E (formerly Class B): Geared toward electrical work, offering protection against high-voltage electrical conductors (up to 20,000 volts)
  • Class C: No electrical protection, and might even conduct electricity

3. Even When a Hard Hat Isn’t Required, a Bump Hat May Be

Bump hats are used in areas with low head clearance, where workers are vulnerable to bumping their heads. These helmets do not protect workers from falling or flying objects and are not approved by ANSI. Since a hard head bump can cause bruising, lacerations, and even concussions, bump hats offer protection for workers who may not need Type I or II hard hats, but still require something.

4. Sizing Matters

Like any PPE, head protection must be properly fitted to each individual worker. Hard hats come in many different sizes and have adjustable headbands, many that adjust in increments of 1/8 inches.

How do you know when the fit is right? You should have enough clearance room between the shell and the suspension system to allow for ventilation and the distribution of an impact (learn more in One Size Does Not Fit All When It Comes to Protective Clothing).

5. Maintenance Is Key to Proper Function

It’s important for workers to conduct a daily inspection of their hard hats, including the shell, suspension system, and any accessories. Look for damage like holes, cracks, tears, and anything else that could compromise the protection it offers. If you spot signs of damage, stop using that particular hard hat and report the issue to a supervisor.

Workers should be advised that some substances might weaken the shells of hard hats or eliminate their electrical resistance. When possible, keep hard hats away from paint, paint thinners, and cleaning agents, and refrain from storing protective headgear in direct sunlight, such as in the rear window of a car.

6. Accessories Can Boost Head Protection

To help workers manage challenging (or changing) environmental conditions, many hard hats allow the wearer to add accessories like earmuffs, safety glasses, face shields, mounted lights, and wide brims to protect from the hot sun.

It’s critical to ensure that these accessories don’t compromise the protection that the hat offers, so only add accessories to hard hats designed to support them.

7. Smart Hard Hats Do More than Protect the Head

Smart PPE is making rapid advances, and head protection hasn't been left behind. Smart hard hats can do more than protect the wearer’s head. One device, which can be retrofitted onto a regular hard hat, consists of a sweatband that can monitor and collect data, including body temperature, heart rate, and external temperature and humidity. When a worker is at risk of heat-related illness, the system sounds audio and visual alerts.

A more innovative hard hat combines safety with augmented reality, allowing the wearer to see reality overlaid with computer imagery. It uses a combination of cameras and sensors to provide the wearer with information about their surroundings, and can even display stored information like safety guidelines and work instructions.

8. If Protective Headwear Is Struck, It Should Be Replaced

Even if there is no visible damage to the hard hat, impact from a falling object could compromise its ability to protect the wearer. Your safety program should outline procedures to deal with PPE that’s been involved in an incident. It should immediately be removed from service and replaced with gear that has been inspected and deemed fit for use.

9. Hi-Vis Head Protection Is a Thing

If your workers need high-visibility head protection, check on the relevant safety standards before making any modifications to their gear. Reflective tape is often the best choice, as paint solvents can weaken the shell of hard hats, making them susceptible to cracks. If you are at all uncertain about what is permissible, check with the manufacturer.

10. Hard Hat Liners Help Workers Through Cold Weather

Hard hats are designed to protect workers from impact but don't always do much to keep the worker warm. Hard hat liners can make up for this lack of cold protection.

Hard hat liners come in several styles – from those that cover just the head and ears to those that cover nearly the entire face – and will adequately protect workers from the elements. Make sure, however, that the liner doesn’t interfere in any way with the hard hat doing its most important job: preventing a head injury.

Final Words

It’s easy to overlook head protection, especially for workers who are only going to be in the "danger zone" for a few minutes. But it's never worth the risk – it only takes a split second for a serious or fatal head injury to happen. By investing in good quality, ANSI-compliant headgear that fits properly, you can keep your workers safe while on the jobsite.