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Carbon Fiber Hard Hats: Are They Better?

November 22, 2021

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Hard hats are a staple of safety in the workplace. It is one of the first things that people think of when they think of safety equipment. But is there a difference in the different hard hat materials? Are there some materials that are better than others?

According to OSHA, “Employees working in areas where there is a possible danger of head injury from impact, or from falling or flying objects, or from electrical shock and burns, shall be protected by protective helmets.” There are many different levels of protection for hard hats, and it is important to choose the right level to match your job.

Carbon Fiber Hard Hats vs. Other Types, Are They Better?

There are certain advantages to carbon fiber hats that make them better than traditional hard hat options. However, there are disadvantages and limitations to carbon fiber options that might make them less ideal for the work you plan on doing.

Why Should I Wear a Hard Hat?

Hard hats are a staple of safety in the workplace. It is one of the first things that people think of when they think of safety equipment. Hard hats protect you from falling objects, impacts, burns, and shocks. Wearing a hard hat ensures your safety on the job from these hazards. But is there a difference in the different hard hat materials? Are there some materials that are better than others? We will explore these questions in greater detail throughout this article.

Does OSHA Require Me to Wear a Hard Hat?

According to OSHA, “Employees working in areas where there is a possible danger of head injury from impact, or from falling or flying objects, or from electrical shock and burns, shall be protected by protective helmets.” In addition to this standard, employers are responsible for providing the PPE you need to be protected from workplace hazards.

This means that if there is a possibility of injury to your head, your employer needs to provide you with a hard hat. However, there are many different levels of protection for hard hats, and it is important to choose the right type for the work you do.

What Are Most Hard Hats Made Of?

Standard hard hats that meet ANSI standards are made of high-density polyethylene or ABS plastic material, which are organic and non-conductive. On average, standard hard hats made of high-density polyethylene weigh about 13 ounces, which is a little less than a pound.

Many models of hard hats also have resin coating that helps strengthen the shell. Resin is a non-conductive material that can withstand up to 2,200 volts. However, when paired with other materials that are conductive, this resistance becomes weaker. Some hard hats are made purely of resin, which are useful for resisting minimal electrical hazards.

Carbon Fiber Hard Hats

Carbon fiber hard hats meet ANSI standards, making them compliant with OSHA standards as well. Carbon fiber material is very popular among other industries like aerospace and mechanics because of its superior strength, which is five times that of steel. Compared to steel, it is also much lighter at around 17 ounces. However, there are certain advantages and disadvantages of carbon fiber hard hats when compared to standard hard hats.

Advantages of Carbon Fiber Hard Hats

The biggest advantage of carbon fiber hard hats is that they are long-lasting, lightweight (check out this article discussing Are Carbon Fiber Hard Hats Lighter), and very impact resistant. The material is lightweight for how strong it is compared to metal hard hats of the same strength. Oftentimes, the carbon fiber shell of the hard hat is coated with resin, increasing their durability further.

As a class C hard hat, carbon fiber hard hats can be ventilated, which their class G and class E counterparts cannot. For work environments that present a high probability of overhead hazards that may hit, cut, or scratch your head, carbon fiber hard hats will be much more reliable than standard hard hats.

Carbon fiber hats are particularly great for working in hot temperatures because the material does not heat up unless it is exposed to more than 350°F. This will help keep the wearer cool in intense summer weather conditions.

Disadvantages of Carbon Fiber Hard Hats

The most concerning disadvantage of carbon fiber hard hats is that they only come in Class C options. This means that they are conductive and provide no protection from electrical hazards. They are also definitely more expensive than the normal hard hats, costing upwards of $160.

The weight is another important factor to consider, because although it is lighter than aluminum and other metal counterparts, it is a bit heavier than standard ABS plastic and high-density polyethylene hard hats. However, the difference is only by a few ounces, which may not be considered much of a disadvantage to some buyers.

Finding carbon fiber hard hats that have accessories or that are compatible with aftermarket accessories is difficult. This means that most carbon fiber hard hats come as is and cannot be fitted with things like face shields or hearing protection.

When Do Carbon Fiber Hard Hats Expire?

Just like standard hard hats, carbon fiber hard hats expire five years from the date they were manufactured. This information can be found stamped inside the hard hat. Usually, a stamped date will be on the brim, but it’s possible that it will be elsewhere on the inside.

The stamp looks like a circular pattern of numbers. The number in the middle is the year of manufacture, and the arrow in the middle will point to the number that is the month of the year it was manufactured. The other numbers are the serial number of the hard hat and are unrelated to the expiration date.

We've discussed when carbon fiber hats expire, check out this article to learn How Long Carbon Fiber Hard Hats Last compared to other types of hard hats.

Can Carbon Fiber Hard Hats Be Modified?

Just like most hard hats, you should avoid modifying a carbon fiber hard hat by puncturing it to make ventilation holes or slots for adding attachments. Modifying a hard hat can compromise its integrity and ability to withstand impacts. Essentially, you damage the hard hat and make it unsafe for use when you attempt to modify it.

Altering the hard hat by painting it could also be dangerous because it causes chemical damage to the surface of the shell. Unless the carbon fiber hard hat comes with the manufacturer’s authorization and instructions on how the hard hat can be modified or painted, don’t do it.

Should I Get a Carbon Fiber Hard Hat?

In the end, it is up to you whether carbon fiber hard hats are any better than standard hard hats for your individual purposes. Carbon fiber hard hats are the best option for class C hard hats because of their superior strength. Both carbon fiber and standard types of hard hats are durable and protective, but if you work with electrical hazards, it may be better to stick to types of hard hats other than carbon fiber.

For more information about PPE like hard hats, check out our OSHA-compliant PPE training as well as our other, more job-specific training courses on our website.

Carbon Fiber Hard Hat Reviews

Another good way to get an idea of whether or not you should get a carbon fiber hard hat is by looking at reviews for different models. What other people say about them can give you an idea if it is the right fit for your work. Most reviews include what industry the buyer works in and why they chose the hard hat they did.

Generally, most of the reviews come to the consensus that carbon fiber hard hats are:

  • Comfortable fitting thanks to the lower suspension system of other hard hats
  • Waterproof with a surface that deflects rain perfectly
  • Lightweight enough that you can hardly feel it on your head
  • Comfortable enough to wear for multiple hours on end
  • Great looking, with unique and stylish designs compared to other hard hats
  • Expensive compared to other hard hats, but worth the price

Of course, it is worthwhile to do your own research and find for yourself if there may be another hard hat that can be everything you need it to be for a price you are comfortable with. But most workers who have purchased carbon fiber hard hats generally have positive things to say about them and even recommend them.

Who Wears Carbon Fiber Hard Hats?

Certain occupations require hard hats that are class G or class C, but some do not and are okay with class C hard hats. The type of labor that you do will depend greatly on whether or not you can wear a carbon fiber hard hat, which is a class C.

OSHA expects employers to take charge in determining if there is a risk of electrical hazards on the job and whether or not class C hard hats are acceptable or not. Some occupations that are usually safe for wearing a carbon fiber or class C hard hat could include:

  • Construction workers (If the project they are working on has no known electrical hazards present)
  • Mechanics
  • Welders
  • Freight handlers
  • Lumberyard workers
  • Warehouse workers
  • Miners
  • Archaeologists

If you are unsure whether or not you can wear a carbon fiber hard hat at your workplace or not, consult your employer before purchasing one.

Hard Hats by Type/Types of Hard Hats

OSHA adopts the standards regarding hard hats from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). These standards classify hard hats by type for sustaining impacts and by classes defining their ability to withstand electrical shocks.

Hard Hats Types by Classification

ANSI separates hard hats into different classes rated for protection against electrical hazards. They are as follows:

  • Class C: Class C hard hats do not offer any electrical protection and are even conductive to electricity, making them dangerous for workplaces that could possibly face electrical hazards.
  • Class G: Class G hard hats are rated for a minimal amount of electrical protection– up to 2,200 volts to be exact. They are ideal for workplaces that could face electrical hazards but generally do not.
  • Class E: Class E hard hats are rated for up to 20,000 volts of electricity, making them the most ideal for working with electricity. They are essential for workplaces that are certain to face electric hazards.

There are also two types of hard hats that classify what kind of impacts they are rated for.

  • Type I: These hard hats offer protection from vertical impacts and penetration. They are most commonly used in the United States.
  • Type II: These hard hats offer protection from both vertical and lateral impacts and penetration. They are most commonly used in Europe.

Hard Hat Types by Design

There are more than one kind of hard hat available. There are different styles of hard hats that serve different purposes. There are also different accessories included on hard hats that provide additional protection depending on the work you are doing. Here we will discuss some of the common variants of hard hat styles and what purpose they serve.

  • Brim: A brim hard hat is the kind that, as the name suggests, has a brim on the front. This sticks out just enough to provide the wearer a bit of shade over their eyes. These hard hats are ideal for working outdoors where there is a high possibility of exposure to the sun.
  • Full-Brim: A full-brim hat is just like a brim hat but the brim extends all the way around the circumference of the hard hat. As well as protecting the wearer from the sun, full-brim hard hats are more aptly designed for diverting rain away from the head and face.
  • Cap Style: These hard hats are just like brim hard hats but the brim is generally longer and provides more shade to the wearer’s face. They closely resemble the look of a baseball cap or other hats that have a long visor on the front.
  • Ventilated: These hard hats have vents in the sides around the brim to allow air to enter and keep your head cool while you work. These are very nice if you are working in hot weather conditions outdoors. Many construction workers who work in areas free of electrical hazards choose to wear these kinds of hard hats.
"Stop training the hard way. Do it the Hard Hat Training way instead!"
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