Hard hats are frequently overlooked, but they are the most important piece of equipment you use. Hard hats are more than sun or rain protection—they can save your life. All head protection is not created equal, however, so always wear the right hat for the job. OSHA and ANSI standards for hard hats regulate the types and classes of head protection needed for each job site. OSHA requires hard hats in any scenario where there may be falling objects and dielectric hard hats where workers may be near electricity sources. (See OSHA Appendix B, Subpart 1, Part 9 and links at the bottom of the post.) There are two types and three classes of hard hats, which determine what hard hat is right for the situation. Each hard hat falls into both a type and a class, which will be listed on a label inside the hat.
Types and Classes of Hard Hats
Type 1: Hats in this class protect from impact from above only. If there’s any chance that you could receive a blow from the side, you should pass over the Type 1 and look into Type 2.
Type 2: This type protects you from impact from above and from every other angle. It provides much greater protection than Type 1.
Class E (Electrical): Hats in this class have an extra dielectric lining and are designed to resist voltage up to 20,000 volts. Don’t confuse a Class E hard hat with full protection against electrocution. It will only protect you from being electrocuted from above.
Class G (General): The hats in the general category only protect you from lower voltage, up to 2,200 volts. While these hard hats are dielectric, they offer minimal protection and only to the head. These are the most common hard hats.
Class C (Conductive): Hard hats in this category offer no dielectric protection. They may have extra ventilation and conductive material, such as aluminum.
Caring for Your Hard Hat
Hard hats are like any other construction equipment. They need regular inspection and maintenance. Each day before you put it on, do a quick check for visible signs of weakness. Even dropping your hard hat on concrete can start small fractures in the plastic, which can then expand and drastically weaken the shell. Examine your hard hat for the following:
Also, check the color and shine of your hard hat. Prolonged use in the sun can weaken the plastic. If the color is faded, it will indicate sun or chemical damage. If the paint appears chalky or flaking, it can also indicate damage. Replace your hard hat if it appears weakened in any way. Never paint your hard hat because it could disguise the visible signs of wear. Even if your hard hat appears to be fine, it’s good practice to replace it every two to five years.
The suspension inside the shell is also key to the hard hat’s function. The space in between the webbing and the shell acts as a cushion. Check the headband and webbing for the following:
- Excessive dirt
Even though dirt may not seem like a hazard, the particles can get worked into the band and weaken the fibers. If your hard hat gets excessively dirty, wash it in hot water with a mild soap. Harsh chemical solvents can decrease the shell’s integrity. Replace the suspension every 12 months, even if it appears fine.
The fit of your hard hat will also contribute to its effectiveness. The headband should not be too tight, slip, or irritate your skin. Do not wear a baseball cap under your hard hat, as it will affect the fit and placement of it. You may wear manufacturer approved sun and rain guards and winter hats or hoods.
Wearing a hard hat is the simplest way to keep yourself safe. Always wear the appropriate hat for the job site and inspect it before wearing.
Other resources: A PDF of OSHA guidelines for PPE