Head injuries can severely affect your life. Brain damage, such as anything from a violent impact caused by car accidents, blows or falls, or a violent shaking or whiplash can be permanent. When a blow, fall or whiplash occurs, the brain tissue is ripped, torn, stretched, battered and bruised; this is then followed by bleeding and swelling. Brain damage can then lead to functional impairments, which will make it difficult to return to a normal lifestyle. Examples of functional impairments include: loss of memory, mood swings, fatigue. With this in mind, protective headwear provided by hard hats and other helmets becomes more important in order to maintain your health and quality of life.
Origin of the Hard Hat
While helmets had been used in ancient cultures to provide protection for warriors, the hard hat for a worker is a relatively new concept. In 1919, an American company named E.D. Bullard, which had been making mining equipment since 1898, created the “hard boiled hat”. This hat was made out of steamed canvas, glue, a leather brim and black paint. The design was based on the helmet worn by American troops in World War One. Probably the most important innovation that Bullard added to the design was a suspension system.
It was during the construction of the Hoover Dam and Golden Gate Bridge that Bullard’s mining helmet was adapted for the use of construction workers. Objects being dropped from the heights were a major concern, so the chief engineer, Joseph Straus, made the Golden Gate Bridge the first project where hard hats were required.
Standards for Protective Headwear
The American National Standards Institute and Canadian Standard Association use a similar classification breakdown for head protection. ANSI Z89.1-2009 and CSA Z94.1-15 divide impact protection into Type 1 and 2, and electrical classes E, G, and C. When looking at a hard hat, it will combine the type and class, i.e. Type 2 Class E. For a quick guide:
- Type 1 hard hats are hard hats that are designed only for impact and penetration of the crown only.
- Type 2 hard hats are designed to protect the wearer against impacts to the crown and laterally
- Class E hard hats provide protection up to 20000 V electrical rating
- Class G hard hats provide protection up to 2200 V electrical rating
- Class C has no electrical rating
It is important that the headwear that is chosen is appropriate for the job site that it is being worn on. Doing a hazard assessment before making a purchase ensures the right equipment is available. Then, look at the types and classes and see which will be needed. CSA Z94.1-15 lists the selection criteria for the type of hard hats.
Type 2 headwear must be worn if a hazard cannot determine which type of headwear is required or where crown or lateral impact hazards exist, including but not limited to:
- Environments where moving objects are present at head level
- Environments where moving objects are present above head level
- Environments where there is a possibility of objects striking or penetrating the head
- Construction sites
- Demolition site
Type 1 headwear, because it only provides protection for the crown, is only suitable if
- It can be demonstrated that no lateral impact hazards exist
- The authority having jurisdiction permits the wearing of such a hat
Choosing the electrical classification will be based on what the job or task requires. Class E protects against exposure to voltage from 1000 to a maximum of 20000 with the maximum voltage maintained for three minutes. Class G headwear protects against a maximum voltage 2200 V for only one minute. Class C does not provide protection from electrical hazards.
Wearing and Maintaining Protective Headwear
A hard hat should be tight enough to be secure but not so tight that it hurts to wear. The reason that I prefer ratcheting hard hats is that you can tighten them properly when you put it on and loosen it again when you take it off. Tighten the ratchet as far as you can stand it, then back off slightly to have a secure fit.
The other type of suspension adjuster is the pinlock. This is an older system and not used as often, since most people prefer the ratchet. A pinlock suspension is adjusted by removing the hat and matching the appropriate pin to hole. This will be more trial and error.
When wearing a hard hat, always remember that the suspension harness must always have the ratchet or strap facing toward the back. You can wear the shell backwards, such as for welding, but you need to remove the harness and rotate the shell. The suspension is used to ensure there is space between the skull and the shell, so never store anything above the harness.
Hard hats should be checked prior to use for damage. Damaged suspensions can be replaced, but is the shell is damaged then you need to dispose of the headwear. You can wash a hard hat and suspension, but check the manufacturer’s guidelines to prevent damage. A hard hat is only good for five years, so replace at that time. You can find the date of manufacture under the brim.
Workers have been wearing head protection on jobsites for almost one hundred years. The right hard hat selected for the job site, properly fitted and maintained can save a worker from concussions and other head injuries that will impact their life. Safety is all about planning, so plan to have the right equipment available and train workers how to use them, and plan to stay safe.