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Hard Hats: A Little Off the Top

Hard Hats: A Little Off the Top

Hard hats are perhaps the most recognizable symbol of construction work, but they are also taken for granted, more often than not. A hard hat may seem too hot, too cumbersome, or too silly to wear, but it is essential for your safety.


OSHA regulations state:

“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.” (29 CFR 1910.135)

That means that employees must be provided with and wear a hard hat any time there is a potential for injury from falling or flying objects, electrical shock, or impacts. This may be anywhere objects might fall on your head, you might bump your head on a fixed object, or your head might come in contact with electrical conductors.

In other words, you could justify wearing one for most jobs.


Depending on the work you are doing, a hard hat must be rated to resist penetration, absorb shock from a blow, be water-resistant, and be slow to burn. It should have the ability for the suspension straps to be replaced, as well. Additionally, all hard hats should have the stamp of the manufacturer, the ANSI designation, and the class it falls under.


It is important to inspect your hard hat daily before use. You should check for cracks, holes, tears in the suspension, and UV damage.
Always store it out of the sun, as sunlight and extreme heat can damage it. Never drill holes, paint, or apply labels to your hard hat; this can cover up damage that may have occurred and shorten its working lifespan.

Does a Hard Hat Expire?

Unfortunately, hard hats don’t have a “best if used by” date stamped on them. They do have a manufactured date stamped in them, though. You usually have between three and five years of safe use from this date, depending on the manufacturer. Some manufacturers recommend replacing a hard hat as often as every two years if it sees heavy use.

Chances are your hard hat won’t reach that “expiration” date. Think of it more as a MAXIMUM lifespan.

Also, if your “brain bucket” has been perforated, cracked, is deformed, or suffered an impact, remove it from service and replace it. Replace it once it loses its gloss, too; this is an indication of UV damage.

How to Adjust a Hard Hat

Your hard hat needs to fit properly and comfortably. It shouldn’t blind you, slip, or fall off.

Use the suspension straps to adjust the hard hat to your head. Straps can come in a number of types: ratchet suspension (mechanized knobs), pinlock suspension (locked with a pin), touch (which works like a belt), and swing-ratchet (which adjusts itself). The manufacturer will include instructions on how to properly adjust them.

Can a Hard Hat be Worn Backward?

Wearing a hard hat backward is typically an unsafe practice. However, those that are marked with a “reverse donning arrow“ may be worn forward or backward in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. These hard hats pass all hard hat testing requirements, whether worn frontward or backward.

For more information on hard hats, you can check out our PPE training.