Do Hard Hats Save Lives?

Hard hats are a type of helmets worn in workplaces to protect the head from flying objects, collision impact, debris, and shock among other hazards. As one of the most resilient types of personal protective equipment, hard hats are proven means of saving lives in the workplace.
Hard hats are designed to protect the head against falling objects and the side of the head, eyes, and neck from any impacts, bumps, scrapes, and electrical exposure. Wearing a hard hat is a mandatory requirement set forth by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) which requires employers to provide workers with hard hats and ensure that they wear them. Since hundreds of American workers suffer from fatal head injuries every year, hard hats are crucial features of worksite safety. At least one of these injuries is directly caused by a worker not wearing a hard hat. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011, almost 393 fatal injuries were caused by exposure to falling or flying objects and equipment at workplaces.
Although the benefits of wearing a hard hat are obvious, the question remains –should a worker wear a hard hat if there is no apparent danger to the head from anything around? The answer is yes. Even when there is no obvious danger to the worker at that moment, the environment he/she works in can prove unexpectedly hazardous. In fact, those situations are what the hard hat is made for: defending workers from sudden dangers, when they don’t have the time or space to move out of the way.

Hard Hat Anecdotes

There have been numerous cases in industrial, construction, and mining sectors where hard hats have prevented workers from serious head injuries and fatal accidents. Below are some stories:
Case 1: A worker in a shipyard set up was welding steel plates to construct the deck of a ship when a temporary weld suddenly broke out, causing the plates to pop apart. One of these heavy steel plates struck the man on the side of his hard hat with so much force that it punctured his hat’s shell. The worker did suffer an injury; however, the hard hat dramatically reduced the severity of the blow. So far, he is still able to work.
Case 2: An electrical subcontractor in Portland was working at a height of about 50 meters above ground when he was hit on the head by a 6.6 lb plastic tubing, fallen from 20 meters above him. Thanks to the hard hat he was wearing, the worker escaped without debilitating or fatal injuries.
Case 3: A worker was preparing to blast a nearby bridge in Buffalo. He was not exposed to any overhead hazard or traffic (there was no apparent danger) but still wore a hard hat as directed by safe practice practice guides and common sense. Suddenly, a 100 lb steel hatch blew off the top of the pressure blasting equipment, which was several feet away from the worker, and hit him squarely on the head. The impact of the steel hatch knocked the worker to the ground. The worker was taken to a nearby hospital, but was found to have no significant injuries and was released the same day.

OSHA Standard 1910.135 :

“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.” In its non-mandatory compliance guidelines for hazard assessment and personal protective equipment selection, OSHA suggests hard hats for the following workers :
  • Carpenters
  • Electricians
  • Linemen
  • Mechanics and repairers
  • Plumbers and pipe fitters
  • Assemblers Packers, wrappers, and freight handlers
  • Sawyers
  • Welders
  • Laborers
  • Timber cutters and loggers
  • Stock handlers, and warehouse laborers

Hard Hat design

For the perfect hard hat design, OSHA refers to the performance criteria of the ANSI Z89.1-1986, American National Standard for Personal Protection—Protective Headwear for Industrial Workers Requirements. Hard hats, essentially, consist of two parts – the shell and the suspension. Both must be in good working condition to ensure proper head protection. A hard hat resists penetration and absorbs the shock of a blow. The shell is fabricated of a material hard enough to resist an impact while the shock-absorbing lining headband and crown strap keeps the shell away from the worker’s head.

Types of Hard Hats

Hard hats are classified according to the specific impact and electrical performance requirements they are designed to meet. According to ANSI Z89.1-1986, there are two types of protective hard hats:
Type 1: These hard hats feature a full brim that encircles the helmet’s dome. These hats protect the head from objects falling from above.
Type 2: Hard hats do not feature the girding brim, but may include a short rim in the front like a baseball cap.The inner lining made of foam provides vertical and lateral protection.
Type I hard hat
Type II hard hat
According to the revised standard ANSI Z89.1-1997, the following are the three classes of hard hats which are customized to protect against electrical shocks:

Class G (General) Helmets: These helmets are manufactured to reduce the impact of falling objects and exposure to low-voltage electrical conductors. Sample hard hats under this category are proof-tested at 2200 volts of electrical charge.

Class E (Electrical) Helmets: Called electrical helmets, these are also intended to lessen the impact of falling objects; however, they reduce the danger of exposure to high-voltage electrical conductors. Hard hats under this category receive certification only after they pass the testat 20,000 volts of electrical charge.

Class C (Conductive) Helmets: These are conductive hard hats and minimize the impact of falling objects, but offer no protection against electrical exposure.
Safety professionals, along with management, foremen, and workers need to assess job sites and tasks to determine if head hazards exist as well as their nature, extent, and source. Hard hat types should be selected accordingly.

What role do Hard Hat Stickers play?

Hard hat decals and stickers help instantly identify trained and authorized safety personnel, medical aid, emergency personnel and more. Hence, responsibility can be assigned quickly in the event or an emergency. However, stickers should only be used to identify skilled personnel, a type of workforce, or for personalization. They should never be used for hiding defects in the shell. Decals should be placed at least three-fourths of an inch away from the edge of the hard hat. This eliminates the risk of the decal acting as a conductor between the inside and outside of the helmet.