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Environmental Health and Safety Blog | EHSWire

Heads Up! A quick look at hard hats…

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Oct 2, 2011 11:01:02 PM

By John Defillippo, CHMP

Hard Hats Save HeadsIt makes sense, if you are injured in the head at work – you weren’t wearing a hard hat!

In 1980, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) conducted a survey that indicated that about 80% of the workers sustaining traumatic head injuries each year do not wear head protection. Most of those injured were performing their normal jobs at their regular worksites with 70% indicating that they had had no instruction concerning hard hats. With this information, OSHA started the process to revise the PPE (personal protective equipment) standards and in 1994, the current version of the OSHA PPE standards was published.

So let’s move through time to the present – 30 years after the BLS survey… in 2010 OSHA handed out over $ 1.2 million in proposed penalties for about 2,000 head protection violations (29 CFR 1926.100 and 29 CFR 1910.135 ).  Most of these violations were for workers failing to wear hard hats when required.

When are hard hats required to be worn?

The Simple Answer:  If you are working where ANYTHING MIGHT fall, drop, fly, splash, or land on your head OR your head could come into contact with ANYTHING that MIGHT injure you, like moving equipment, chemicals or electricity, you need to be correctly wearing a properly fitting, ANSI-approved hardhat.

All hard hats should have an ANSI certification label on the inside of the hard hat’s shell. This label will clearly identify what type and class standards it was designed to meet. If this label is missing or cannot be read it should be replaced. Hard hats are classified according to the specific impact and electrical performance requirements they meet.  The details are specified in ANSI Z89.1-2009, American National Standard for Personal Protection—Protective Headwear for Industrial Workers.

Wearing them correctly means in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations. Not backwards (unless specifically so designed) and no hats underneath (except a proper hardhat liner).  A hard hat works by the shell deflecting the blow and absorbing shock and distributing the force of the impact over the suspension system. Wear it backwards or wearing hats (especially baseball caps) or carrying something inside is a really bad idea as it can adversely affect the way it works. Any stickers on the hat must be removable so the hard hat can be inspected and no paint is allowed.

If you are an employer you must determine if and when hard hats are required, provide the correct type and enforce their use.

All hard hats don’t protect our heads from all hazards!

How do you choose the right hard hat?  Do you need protection from just impact or do you also need protection from electrical hazards as well?

Impact Protection

Type I Hard Hats

Type I hard hats are intended to reduce the force of impact resulting for a blow to the top of the head only.

Type II Hard Hats

Type II hard hats are intended to protect from the force of an impact resulting from a blow which may be received off center or to the top of the head. A Type II hard hat is usually lined with thick high density foam and fitted with a chinstrap.

Electrical Hazard Protection

Class G (General)

Class G hard hats are intended to reduce the danger of contact exposure to low voltage conductors. Test samples are proof tested at 2200 volts (phase to ground).

Class E (Electrical)

Class E hard hats are intended to reduce the danger of exposure to high voltage conductors. Test samples are proof-tested at 20,000 volts (phase to ground).

Class C (Conductive)

Class C hard hats are not intended to provide protection against contact with electrical conductors.

How long should you use your favorite hard hat?

Nothing lasts forever and that’s true of hard hats.  Most hard hats need to be tossed after 5 years from the date of manufacture; read the package insert and check the date stamped inside. Using it beyond that time is not only a violation of the standard, but a risk as well. And, if a hard hat protects you from injury, replace it. It did its job and there is no way to tell how it will stand up the next time. For often less than $20, it’s not worth chancing it.

As health and safety officers, Emilcott employees see lots of hard hat violations and have our share of grim stories.  Do you have a hard hat story to tell?  How about one with a happy ending?


Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). ‘‘Accidents Involving Head Injuries.’’ Report 605,

Washington, D.C.: BLS, 1980

Topics: OSHA, Personal Protective Equipment, General Industry H&S, OSHA Compliance, General EHS, Construction H&S, H&S Training, construction, class, electrical hazard, protective headwear, impact, ANSI, head protection, hard hat

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