No one can predict objects falling from above. When we were kids, our teachers told us to put on our ‘thinking caps’. Now that we are all grown up, those who work in industrial settings need to use their thinking caps to remember to always wear head protection anytime hazards are present. The key to keeping yourself out of harm’s way is personal protective equipment, of all types.

Hard hats play a very important role in protecting you. When a serious head injury happens, chances are the most cherished things in our lives – work, play, home and family – may be changed forever.

In the beginning, hard hats weren’t very hard. The ED Bullard Company, a mining equipment manufacturer in California, generally is credited for producing the first US labour head protection. The ‘hardboiled hardhat’ was constructed from steamed canvas, glue, and black paint.

In 1933, construction workers on the Golden Gate Bridge became the first labourers who were required to wear hard hats, due to concerns about falling rivets.

Around 1938, aluminum became a standard for head protection except in electrical applications. Then in the 1940s, fiberglass became the popular material of hard hats. A decade later thermoplastics would take over because they were easy to mold and shape with applied heat.

Today’s hard hats are made from a material called High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) and a Type II hard hat is required to have a foam inner liner of Expanded Polystyrene (EPS), for extra safety and comfort.

Other hard hat materials

There are all types of hard hats available that are made up of various materials. One type of hard hat is the Skullgard hard hat, which features a heavy-duty fiberglass construction for use in steel mills and other heavy industries where high temperatures are common.

In addition, most manufacturers discontinued production of aluminum hard hats years ago due to tougher ANSI safety regulations; however, there is one style of aluminum hard hat still available called the Skullbucket.

Industries that utilise the aluminum hard hat include: US Forestry Service, logging industries, oil well firefighting, water well drilling, construction, boat building, crane/ heavy equipment operators, safety inspectors, and the demolition industry.

Why wear a hard hat?

In certain industries, such as construction, failing to wear a hard hat puts you at risk of serious injury, or even death. Hard hats contain an inner suspension, which provides approximately a 1 – 1 ¼ inch space between the shell and head. This space helps serve as a shock absorber in the event of an impact.

Because this is an integral aspect of the design of the suspension and its effectiveness, it is important that the suspension fits properly. Hard hats protect the skull, and have the capability for furnishing extra protection by attaching face shields, to protect the soft tissueof eyes and ears.

Most hard hats have slots to accommodate safety glasses, face shields, mounted lights, and/or earmuffs.

Adding to the suspense – there are two choices of suspension used in hard hats: ratchet suspension features a quick ratchet-adjusting knob. You may turn the knob to tighten or loosen the hard hat, without removing it. Pin-lock suspensions adjust to the head with a locking mechanism, similar to a man’s belt. You must remove the hard hat to adjust this kind of suspension.

Another point: typical hard hats have either a four-point suspension, or six-point suspension. This describes the actual number of clips that mount the cradle suspension to the shell of the hard hat.

According to safety professionals, there is an unacceptably high rate of noncompliance in the workplace when it comes to wearing personal protective equipment such as hard hats. It’s not worth taking the chance of having a brain injury when one works in an occupation with such hazards.

Could you imagine seeing a soldier on the battlefield without his helmet? Bicycle and motorcycle riders, race drivers and American football players all wear helmets, and baseball players wouldn’t dare step up to bat without their helmet on, while helmets are a very important part of a catcher’s gear. And, as a result of some serious ski accidents in the last few years, experts are also thinking that helmets may possibly save the lives of skiers.

If the use of helmets is so prevalent in sport – whether that’s amateur or professional – it begs the reticence question where it comes to tough working environments.

Types of hard hats

Here are industrial classifications of hardhats:

Class G – Hard hats that provide good impact protection but limited voltage protection. Best used for mining, building construction, shipbuilding, manufacturing, and lumber industries. Class E – Helmets that provide excellent protection for electrical workers because they protect against falling objects and high-voltage shock and burns. Class C – Lightweight comfort and important protection; they protect workers from bumping against fixed objects but do not protect against falling objects or electric shock.

Hard hats are also described by what kind of impact protection they provide. Type I, which is a top impact hard hat, protects you from an object that may come from above, directly onto the top of the head. Type II hard hats are top and lateral impact, and do double duty by reducing the impact of an object that may hit the top or an off-center part of the head.

Going back to putting on your ‘thinking cap’, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, injuries to those workers not wearing hard hats may come from any angle. They report that more than one-half of the bare-head workers were bumped on the head while they were looking down. Almost three-tenths were looking straight ahead, and one-third of the unprotected workers were injured when they ran into stationary objects. So, keep your hard head up, and hard hat on!

US Occupational Health and  Safety Standards:

1910.135(a) General requirements. 1910.135(a)(1) The employer shall ensure that each affected employee wears a protective helmet when working in areas where there is a potential for injury to the head from falling objects. 1910.135(a)(2) The employer shall ensure that a protective helmet designed to reduce electrical shock hazard is worn by each such affected employee when near exposed electrical conductors which could contact the head. 1910.135 (b) Criteria for head protection. 1910.135(b)(1) Head protection must comply with any of the following consensus standards: 1910.135(b)(1)(i) ANSI Z89.1-2003, ‘American National Standard for Industrial Head Protection,’ which is incorporated by reference in § 1910.6; 1910.135(b)(1)(ii) ANSI Z89.1-1997, ‘American National Standard for Industrial Head Protection,’ which is incorporated by reference in § 1910.6; or 1910.135(b)(1)(iii) ANSI Z89.1-1986, ‘American National Standard for Personnel Protection – Protective Headwear for Industrial Workers – Requirements,’ which is incorporated by reference in § 1910.6. 1910.135(b)(2) Head protection devices that the employer demonstrates are at least as effective as head protection devices that are constructed in accordance with one of the above consensus standards will be deemed to be in compliance with the requirements of this section. [59 FR 16362, April 6, 1994; 61 FR 9227, March 7, 1996; 61 FR 19547, May 1, 1996; 74 FR 46356, Sept. 9, 2009] 1910.6(a)(1)

The standards of agencies of the U.S. Government, and organisations which are not agencies of the U.S. Government which are incorporated by reference in this part, have the same force and effect as other standards in this part. Only the mandatory provisions (e.g. provisions containing the word ‘shall’ or other mandatory language) of standards incorporated by reference are adopted as standards under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.