HARD HAT FACTS
There are many preventative measures that should be taken into consideration to avoid risks associated with collapsing structures, falling objects (debris, bricks, dropped tools) and flying objects (shards of wood and metal, for instance), and the risk of people accidentally hitting their heads on items such as exposed timbers and low scaffolding.
Wearing a hard hat is an extremely necessary last line of defence in avoiding head injuries because, even with the best safety precautions, accidents will happen, as the following examples illustrate.
- A self-employed roofer was killed when he tripped and fell while carrying a ladder along a path. It seems that he struck his head as he fell. There were no obvious tripping hazards in the vicinity.
- An agency employee working on a large house-build construction site was killed when he was struck by some fire-resistant doors, stacked on end. He stumbled as he stood back, causing the doors to strike him on the head, trapping him against the adjacent wall.
- Another self-employed contractor struck his head hard on part of a scaffold. He was not wearing a safety helmet. He complained of headaches for some weeks after the accident and died a month later.
THE CONSTRUCTION (HEAD PROTECTION) REGULATIONS SET THE FOLLOWING REQUIREMENTS.
- Head protection should protect the head against risk of injury, should fit properly after any necessary adjustment and should be suitable for the work or activity carried out by the wearer.
- It should be available free to employees regardless of whether they will be exposed to a risk of head injury. (Self-employed persons must provide their own head protection in exactly the same circumstances.)
It should be worn by people who visit the site as part of the works, such as surveyors and architects. Other visitors who don’t work on site, such as delivery drivers, don’t have to wear head protection but, under the Health and Safety at Work Act, all visitors should wear head protection if there is a foreseeable risk of head injury.
- Employers and those in control of others have a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that head protection is worn where there is a risk of head injury.
- If the person in control of a site exercises the rule-making provision, those rules apply to everyone on that site, regardless of the employment relationship. (Many construction sites endorse the rule that the whole construction site is a hard hat area.)
- The only exemption to the requirement to wear head protection is for turban-wearing Sikhs.
HARD HAT STANDARDS
In most cases, suitable head protection means an industrial safety helmet conforming to British Standard BS EN397:1995 or equivalent. This ensures that the hat has passed the relevant tests for adjustment, performance, impact, penetration, flame retardance, leakage and ageing.
Hard hats that comply with BS EN397:1995 are tested to withstand impact from pointed lead weights that are dropped onto the top of the hat. To help protect the skull from impact, beneath the hard outer shell of the helmet a skull cradle is suspended that should adjust to fit snugly to different head shapes and sizes. Between the helmet and the cradle is a 12mm air gap. The rule is that the falling object should not penetrate the outer shell, and any dent the falling object makes should not exceed the gap between the outer shell and the skull cradle.
Hard hats come in a variety of styles to suit different applications and personal preference. Variations of the standard hat are available with the options of:
- a full peak for shielding the eyes from solar glare
- a reduced peak when the worker is required to look up (for instance when climbing ladders)
- a rain gutter for protection against bad weather
- ventilation holes to help keep the wearer cool in hot weather
- replaceable sweat bands on the inside of the helmet
- a chinstrap for extra security and fit when the wearer is climbing, stooping or working at height
- a chinguard and visor to protect against potentially hazardous materials flying upwards
- built-in eye protection in the form of safety goggles or a half-face visor
- integrated hearing defenders – helmet-mounted earmuffs are particularly suitable for users wearing more than one type of PPE (such as respiratory protection and eye protection) and when the wearer is routinely climbing ladders or scaffold or working at height generally
- chemical and heat resistance, higher levels of electrical insulation (protecting against shocks in excess of 1,000 volts AC), additional cold weather
resistance (to below -40°C), molten metal resistance and lateral deformation (side impact resistance).
Hard hats also come in a variety of colours. Although most construction sites do not have hard and fast colour rules, different coloured hats can be used to match corporate colours or to signal different jobs or responsibilities; for example, green for first-aiders, red for rescue-trained personnel, white for management, yellow for general site workers and orange or blue for visitors. The advantage of the traditional yellow hard hat is that it provides high visibility.
The best way to choose hats that fit everybody’s needs is to draw on the experience and knowledge of an expert such as a hard hat manufacturer or safety equipment supplier, and simply to try out a few designs.
HAT CARE AND MAINTENANCE
- check hard hats regularly for cracks, dents or other damage
- replace hats if damaged or after their shelf-life expires (usually between two and five years, depending on level of use and manufacturer guidelines)
- keep hard hats clean using warm, soapy water, not solvents or abrasives.
- store materials in your hard hat (it is not designed for carrying nails!)
- store hard hats where they may be exposed to direct sunlight (the parcel shelf of a car, for instance) as ultraviolet rays can damage the plastic outer shell
- fix any stickers to the hard hat or write on it (some materials may be weakened by certain chemicals and adhesives).