A hard hat is a type of helmet that is used in a number of industries to protect the head of the user from impacts such as airborne debris or falling blunt objects. They are typically manufactured in a variety of lightweight materials including fiberglass, aluminum, and HDPE plastics. Hard hats also can have additional protection and comfort added to meet the needs of certain jobs or tasks. OSHA has specific guidelines for head protection that are referenced in 29 CFR 1910.135 and 1926.100.
According to 29 CFR 1910.135, “Each affected employee shall wear protective helmets when working in areas where there is a potential for injury to the head from falling objects.” 29 CFR 1910.135 also notes “Protective helmets designed to reduce electrical shock hazard shall be worn by each such affected employee when near exposed electrical conductors which could contact the head.”
OSHA also states that a hard hat, used in the workplace, must satisfy ANSI Z89.1 requirements. An effective hard hat will retain these protective properties:
- Absorb the impact of a falling object
- Resist falling debris
- Ability to repel water
- Heat resistant to a certain degree
- Have a proper fit
The specific type of hard hat needed will generally depend on the level of protection required based on the hazard faced by the user.
Hard Had Types
A hard hat will typically consist of two elements: the shell and the suspension. The main purpose of a hard hat’s suspension is to aid the shell in the absorption of impacts to the top of the head. The type of suspension and padding will ultimately determine the type of PPE.
Hard hats are classified according to specific impact and electrical performance requirements. This classification is also commonly referred to as the ANSI Z89.1 standard. All hard hats that meet or exceed this standard are classified as either a Type I or Type II hard hat.
Type I Hard Hats – Hard hats that have a shell and suspension system intended to reduce the force of an impact resulting from a blow to the top of the head are considered Type I (top impact) hard hats. They are the simplest form of head protection as seen by OSHA/ANSI and are vital for certain work environments.
Type II Hard Hats – Type II hard hats, on the other hand, are manufactured to provide protection against impacts that may be experienced at different angles (not just the top). These types of hard hats are typically more expensive, heavier, and lined with a thick foam (expanded polystyrene) to provide added protection. They are considered much safer than type I.
All hard hats (types I and II) with ANSI certification should be marked as such on the inside of each shell. The markings will clearly identify the type and class that each hard hat was designed for.
Hard Hat Classes
In addition to types, hard hats can be grouped further into classes. Class G, E, and C hard hats guard against certain electrical hazards in addition to basic head protection (types I & II).
Class G Hard Hats – Class G hard hats (formerly class A) are general use hard hats designed to protect against certain low voltage electrical conductors. This Class is widely used in mining, construction, shipbuilding, tunneling, lumbering, and manufacturing.
Class E Hard Hat – Class E hard hats (formerly class B) are designed to protect the user from exposure to high voltage electric shocks and burns. This Class is used extensively by employees engaged in electrical work.
Class C Hard Hat – Class C hard hats are not designed to guard against electrical conductors. They should not be used to protect against electrical hazards. They are, however, lightweight provide excellent impact protection.
Hard Hat Suspension Types
Pin-lock suspension – This type of suspension can be fitted to a workers head using a locking mechanism similar to a baseball cap. The teeth can be adjusted and locked into place allowing for a perfect fit. The most economical suspension type.
Ratchet suspension – This type of hard hat suspension can be adjusted to a workers head with a quick twist of a knob near the back of the head. This loosens or tightens your helmet “on the go”, without having to remove it. A bit more expensive than the pin lock suspension.
Hard Hat Maintenance
All hard hats and other protective headgear should be inspected and cleaned on a regular basis. If cracks, nicks, dents, or any damage should appear, the helmet should be discarded and replaced. Additionally, if the hard hat you wear is made of polycarbonate, it should be inspecting and tested for stiffness, brittleness, fading, or dullness. If the hard hat shell shows any of these signs, it should be removed from service and replaced immediately.
Cleaning and disinfection your hard hat is also important especially if more than one person uses the same headgear. They should be cleaned with a suitable disinfecting solution such as a 5% formalin solution or a sodium hypochlorite solution.