Injuries to the head are common in the workplace, accounting for approximately 10% of all occupational injuries. More than 120,000 disabling injuries to the head occur each year. Injuries are often severe with an average loss time of three weeks. Most employees who receive head injuries were not wearing head protection nor was it required by their employers. Typical injuries to the head are caused by falling objects such as tools, bolts, etc., falling from a height of several yards. OSHA requires occupational head protection in any area of the workplace that presents a risk of head injury. The purpose of a hard hat is to protect the head from the shock of a falling object, penetration by sharp objects, and from exposed electrical conductors.
- Tasks. Hard hats must be worn in all areas where there is possible danger of head injury. Hard hats can protect the worker from falling objects such as overhead tools, bricks, boards, equipment, building materials, and rocks. In addition hard hats must be worn if it is possible for the worker's head to contact an exposed electrical conductor.
- Types. Class-A hard hats are designed to protect the head from falling objects and low voltages. Class-B hard hats protect the head from falling objects and high voltages. Class-C hats do not offer any voltage protection. When required to wear hard hats, workers should always wear a Class-B hat, unless another hat has been approved by the Safety Office for a specific task. Protective helmets must meet the requirements of ANSI Z89.1.
- Precautions. Hard hats must be protected from temperature extremes, chemicals, and rough treatment. Never paint a hard hat. The solvent in the paint may damage the shell of the hat. Do not cut holes in the hat to increase ventilation. This will severely weaken the hat and eliminate its electrical insulation properties. Avoid placing a hard hat where it may be exposed to direct sunlight.
- Inspection. Hard hats should be inspected for dents, cracks, brittleness, tears, or other damage before use. Both the shell and suspension should be inspected. Any hat subjected to a heavy blow should be replaced.
- Bump caps. Bump caps are not acceptable in areas where hard hats are required. Bump caps are lightweight and durable but only provide protection from minor bumps and abrasions.
- Fit. Hard hats are effective only if worn properly. Hard hats should be worn straight and not angled. Never wear a hard hat backwards. Hard hats should be as light as possible and carefully adjusted to fit the wearer.
- Suspension. Hard hats shall be worn with the suspension in place. The space maintained between the shell and head (minimum of one and one-quarter inch) by the suspension reduces shock and prevents the shell from striking the head solidly upon impact. Hats come with 4, 6, or 8-point suspensions. The more suspension points the greater the stability and comfort.
- Cleaning. Hard hats should be cleaned periodically with hot water and soap. The hat should be cleaned with a disinfectant prior to use by another person.