Don't be hard-headed

June 1, 2008
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Many employees in construction wear hard hats. Some take them for granted, misuse them, or grow fond of them. Do you know a coworker whose hard hat has seen better days? Next time you see that coworker, ask him if he’s thought about replacing that well-worn hat. You just might save his life.

Head protection standards
OSHA 29 CFR 1926.100 regulates head protection in construction. Standards recognized by OSHA for protective hats are in ANSI Z89-1.1969, Safety Requirements for Industrial Head Protection. Helmets for employees exposed to high-voltage electrical shock and burns must meet the requirements found in ANSI, Z89.2-1971, Safety Requirements for Industrial Protective Helmets for Electrical Workers, Class B.

Head hazards
Head injuries are caused by falling or flying objects, or by bumping the head against a fixed object. Head protection, in the form of hard hats, must do two things: resist penetration and absorb the shock of a blow. This is accomplished by making the shell of a material hard enough to resist the blow, and by utilizing a shock-absorbing lining composed of headband and crown straps to keep the shell away from the wearer’s skull. Hard hats are also used to protect against electrical shock.

Hard hats fall into two types and three classes:
  • Type 1 —Full brim, at least 1.25 inches wide.
  • Type 2 —No brim, peak extending forward from the crown.
  • Class A —For general service. These hats provide impact and limited voltage protection. Mining, building construction, tunneling, and lumbering are examples of industries that use Class A hard hats.
  • Class B —For utility service. This class of hat protects from impact and penetration of falling and flying objects and high-voltage shock and burn. It is mainly used during electrical work.
  • Class C —For special service. This hat is designed for lightweight comfort and impact protection. It is used where there is no danger from electrical hazards.


Caring for the hard hat
Proper care of hard hats is important. Certain requirements must be followed:
  • Check the hat daily for signs of dents, cracks or penetration. Do not use it if any of these signs are found on the shell, suspension, headband, or sweatband.
  • Protect the hat from heat and light. Do not leave your hat on the rear-window shelf of a vehicle or in direct sunlight.
  • Clean the hat at least once a month in warm, soapy water. Scrub and rinse the shell with clear, hot water.
  • Maintain the integrity of the hat. Do not paint it; some types of paints and thinners may damage the shell or weaken the hard hat.
Frequently asked questions

Q: Can employees put stickers on hard hats?

A: OSHA regulations do not address the “sticker” issue.

ANSI standard Z89.1-1997 does not specifically address the issue either. It does advise workers to take caution when marking or decorating Class G (general) or Class E (electrical) helmets. The ANSI standard warns against affixing markers that would make holes or damage the hat.

A few stickers may be OK, but a hat full of them could hide potential damage to the helmet. In the end, it is up to the employer to decide if the helmet is safe for the employee to wear.

Q: Is it OK to wear a hard hat backwards?

A: OSHA will ask: “Does wearing the hard hat backwards meet the requirements of ANSI Z89.1, 1969 — Safety Requirements for Industrial Head Protection?” In other words, has the manufacturer tested the hard hat with the headband backwards? If not, then it is not being worn properly and OSHA could write a citation.

This practice is so widespread that manufacturers now make hard hats with reversible headbands that have been tested both ways. The 360-degree brimmed hard hat is also gaining popularity.

This issue is addressed in an OSHA letter of interpretation, “The use of head protection at construction sites,” dated July 22, 1992.

Q: Is there a lifespan for hard hats?

A: OSHA does not designate life span or shelf life for PPE. It does require a daily inspection of equipment. Defective equipment should not be used, but this is based on condition of the equipment, not on length of time.

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