The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states that for an employee working in an area where there is potential injury to the head from falling objects, head protection must be worn (1910.135), complying with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard, Z89.1 (2009, 2003, or 1997).
An employer who values employees and understands good business practices doesn’t need an OSHA standard to recognize when head protection is necessary. With or without compliance requirements, a good employer will conduct an effective risk assessment to identify the hazards to which employees are exposed and implement protective measures to ensure employee safety.
The OSHA standard, incorporating ANSI Z89.1, helps the employer select and provide the right head protection to match the exposure to hazards. As an employer, you want to be sure that the PPE provided is effective and meets the designated criteria for the identified protection levels.
Head protection is available in two types and three classes of hard hats and bump caps. A properly fitting hard hat is also important. Which protection level you choose is based on the outcome of your risk assessment.
Hard hat types
The two types of hard hats are designated as Type 1 and Type 2. A Type 1 hard hat protects a person’s head from overhead falling objects or impact threats from above. Examples of such hazards include falling bricks, a hammer, or other hard objects that could strike a person’s head.
Type 2 hard hats minimize the effect of side or lateral blows to the head as well as to the top of the head. The interior of a Type 2 hard hat is different from a Type 1 in that it includes a high-density material and a suspension that circles the wearer’s head to absorb a blow. This type of hard hat is required when working near moving machinery that could inflict a side blow or impact.
Hard hat classes
The three classes of hard hats include Class E (Electrical), Class G (General Duty), and Class C (Conductive). A Class E hard hat is designed to protect and shield the wearer from high-voltage cables and they come with dielectric shielding that protects up to 20,000 volts. Note that this protection level is for the head only and does not protect the wearer from such voltage contact with other parts of the body. A Class E hard hat was designed and intended for utility workers who are often exposed to high-voltage hazards. A Class C hat can also be selected for Class G use, since the voltage rating is higher with the Class C and the other levels of protection are equal to a Class G hat.
A Class G hard hat is for general use and offers dielectric shielding for low-voltage transmission lines up to 2,200 volts. Class G hats, formerly represented by and not to be confused with the new Class A hats, are the most widely used.
Class C hard hats do not provide dielectric shielding and are, in fact, conductive. A distinct feature of Class C hard hats is that they can be available with built-in ventilation. The wearer can be protected at the same impact level as a Class E or Class G while having improved breathability built into the hat.
Bump caps are the right choice when the primary hazard is, well, head bumps. If a person is at risk for bumping his or her head because of low clearances or when working in a stooped or crawl position under equipment or a low roof, this is an ideal option. Bump caps are not hard hats – they are not constructed to the same level of protection from falling objects and are intended for only mild contact between a person and an obstacle or surface. It is the person doing the moving, not the equipment.
Of course, it is perfectly acceptable to select a Class G hard hat in lieu of a bump cap. The reverse option is not available. The padding in a bump cap is suitable to protect against bruising, cutting, or momentary disorientation from striking the head against an object. Bump caps are generally not as heavy or weighty as a hard hat and generally are cooler to wear.
Hard hats generally require suspensions to be replaced annually and the hat to be replaced every five years from the date of being placed in service. Any significant impact to the hat prior to replacement dates requires immediate replacement.
In the final evaluation – based on your risk assessment findings – first, determine if a hard hat or bump cap is necessary. Next, if a hard hat is necessary, does it need to be a Type 1 or Type 2? Then, determine whether your exposure includes high-voltage transmission lines (Class E), low-voltage lines or general use (Class G), or no electrical exposure (Class C).