The hardhat is one of the most widely used pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) on job sites today, and appropriate selection, wear, inspection and maintenance are essential to keep it in optimal condition.

Hardhat selection
Users should be able to recognize the various helmet performance types and be aware of the tasks and hazards for which they are suitable. The ANSI/ISEA Z89.1 Standard defines two types of helmets with three classes in each. Type 1 helmets are intended to provide protection from blows to the crown, while Type 2 helmets also provide lateral protection from blows to the side of the head.

Within each type, three classes designate the degree to which the helmet has been shown to provide resistance to electrical hazards:
  • Class C helmets provide no claimed electrical resistance
  • Class G helmets are appropriate for exposure to voltages up to 2,200 volts
  • Class E helmets are tested for current leakage at 20,000 volts
Other factors may also affect the final selection of the helmet. Cap style helmets with rain gutter design can reduce rainwater run-off on the wearer’s neck. Full brim helmets (those with a brim around the entire helmet) can keep the wearer dry in rain and may reduce contact with branches, wires, etc. Helmets that are certified by the manufacturer for use when the shell is reversed on the suspension can provide a higher field of vision to help avoid low hanging hazards. Where additional visibility of the wearer is needed, bright fluorescent colored helmet shells or strips offer excellent daytime visibility. Retroreflective strips give high visibility when illuminated by headlights. Photoluminescent (glowin- the-dark) shells or strips can make the wearer visible even in total darkness.

Hardhat usage
Make sure the hat sits comfortably, squarely and securely on your head. This can be accomplished by adjusting the suspension system. There are two types of suspension systems for hardhats, standard or pin-lock adjustment and ratchet adjustment. While the ratchet adjustment is easier to use and can be adjusted by the turn of a knob without removing the hat, the pin-lock is more economical. Always ensure that the suspension is installed correctly. The suspension tabs should be thoroughly seated into the shell. Never use a suspension that is not manufactured for your particular hat.

Prior to wearing your hat backwards, you should get confirmation from the manufacturer that the hat is certified to be worn in this position. The certification may require the suspension be reversed so that the headband is in the normal position and only the shell is in the backwards position.

Never wear or carry anything inside your hardhat between the suspension and the shell. In order for your hat to perform correctly, there must be a clearance between the shell and the wearer’s head. This clearance helps absorb the shock in case of a blow to the head. There are certain products on the market, such as winter liners, designed to work in conjunction with your hat. Although these are designed for this purpose, you should still consult the manufacturer for proper use.

Some jobs require the use of hearing and/or face protection along with your hardhat. If your job requires you to wear an alternate type of protection that would be inserted into the accessory slot of your hat, don’t assume compatibility. Improper fit of accessories into the slots can put undue stress on the shell causing cracking.

Hardhat inspection
There are two main components to a hardhat: the shell and the suspension. These components work concurrently to provide impact protection from falling objects. You should inspect your hardhat prior to every use. When inspecting, scrutinize the shell as well as the suspension for any damage such as cracks, dents, nicks, gouges, abrasions and any signs of deterioration. Other signs to look for are brittleness or a chalky appearance.

Be sure to look not only on the top but underneath as well for signs of damage that are not visible on the top surface. The suspension should be inspected for cracks, cut or frayed straps and any other signs of wear and tear. If either the shell or the suspension shows any signs of damage, replace it immediately.

Hardhat maintenance
Wash the shell of the hardhat with mild soap and water and thoroughly rinse on a regular basis. Never use chemicals or solvents as this can break down the molecules of the plastic therefore degrading the shell. The suspension can be cleaned in a similar fashion. Most brow pads can be removed and hand washed. Replaceable components such as suspensions and brow pads are usually made available for purchase by the manufacturer.

Do not use paint on your hardhat. The solvents in the paint may deteriorate the plastic making it brittle and more susceptible to cracks. Paint may also hide cracks and other blemishes that may develop on the shell.

Never alter, puncture, modify or engrave on the shell or the suspension. Any alterations such as cutting or re-wrapping the nylon straps of the suspension can greatly reduce the impact resistance and effectiveness of the hat.

While it is not recommended to apply adhesive stickers, it is a growing fashion to do so. The adhesive used on most stickers will not harm the shell, but provides a limited view when inspecting the helmet. For inspection purposes, the area of the helmet covered by stickers should be kept to a minimum. Also, stickers should be placed at least 3/4 inches away from the edge of the helmet. This prevents the sticker from acting as a conductor between the outside and inside of the shell if it were to move and wrap around the brim. Never apply a metal-based sticker. A better alternative is custom printing, as this will provide a more clear view when inspecting your helmet.

Avoid prolonged exposure to extreme heat and UV light. UV can break down the integrity of the plastic, causing it to be brittle. While UV inhibitors are used in most hardhats, deterioration of the shell will eventually happen. You can help avoid prolonged exposure by storing your hat out of the sun when not in use. If your hat is exposed to high levels or extended periods of sunlight, you should replace your helmet more frequently.