Safety has always been an important issue in construction. Let’s face it; this is not an office job. The more prepared Laborers are, the less chance for accidents and injuries.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), the focus of this series, is a key part of that preparation. Whenever feasible, however, engineering or administrative controls should be implemented to minimize or eliminate exposure to the problem.

Hard hat safety

Our series begins with the head, containing the only organ in the human body totally encased in bone. This is nature’s way of stating the importance of protecting the brain.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says that head injuries account for nine percent of all injuries to laborers.

Each day, upon entering a job site, Laborers see signs requiring hard hats to be worn and worn correctly. These signs are not always obeyed, as anyone who has visited a construction site can attest. The BLS reports that in most instances where head injuries occurred, employers did not actually require workers to wear head protection or wear it correctly.

This can be for any number of reasons – comfort level, simple neglect – but for many it is as simple as wearing a hard hat backwards for “the look.”

Wearing a hard hat backwards can be appropriate. In close quarters it is easier to maneuver when the hat is placed in that position. It is also easier to see without the brim in front.

However, manufacturers do not recommend that Laborers wear standard hard hats backwards unless it is necessary for certain job applications, such as welding, where a mask is required. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) clearly specifies that workers must wear their hats the way they were designed to be worn, unless the manufacturer states a hat can be worn backward. If wearing a hat backwards is necessary, it is best to get one designed so that its suspension can be turned around inside the hat to accommodate wearing it backwards.

Hat types

Hard hats are made to meet the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard Z89.1-1986 for top impact. The head is protected from small falling objects. The shell, or outside of a hard hat, is rounded to protect the crown of the head. Wearing the hat correctly allows the shell to interact with the suspension inside the hat to absorb the energy from a blow to the head.

In 1997, ANSI published a revision to its Z89.1 protective head wear standard. While the revision, ANSI Z89.1-1997, has not yet been adopted into 29 CFR 1910.135 (the OSHA construction standard), it does reclassify hard hat types and establishes new information requirements:

  • Type I Hard Hats – designed to reduce the force of impact from a blow to the top of the head.
  • Type II Hard Hats – intended to provide protection against both side impact and blows to the top of the head. Locations in your workplace requiring Type II protection will be determined by your Safety Management.

Hard hats must also contain user information under the 1997 standard. In addition to the manufacturer’s name, compliant helmets must be marked with the date of manufacture. Instructions pertaining to sizing, care and service life guidelines must also accompany the hard hat.

Hat maintenance

OSHA recommends inspecting hard hats before and after each use, but if a Laborer is involved in an impact accident, the hat should be replaced immediately because the suspension will have been stretched. Normally, though, if hats are worn every day, they should be replaced every two years, with suspensions replaced every 12 months.

Extreme hot and cold environments can shorten a hard hat’s life. So, for example, avoid storing hats where they could be exposed to the sun’s rays, such as the back window of the car. UV rays can cause significant damage to hard hats.

Stickers on the hard hat are quite popular with Laborers. They allow individual expression, but they can be a safety risk. If stickers are used, they must not cover up any damage or cracks. Also, they should be placed at least a half an inch above the brim to avoid any possibility of creating an electrical arc due to the metal content in some stickers. And, absolutely no holes in hard hats should be drilled for applying name tags. This will sacrifice the integrity of the helmet.

Cover up

Hard hats are the first line of defense against head injury but they only work when worn and worn correctly. Most head injuries can be avoided if the proper head protection is selected, used and maintained.

For more information on hard hats and PPE, please visit our website at or contact the Fund’s Occupational Safety and Health Division at 202-628-5465.

[Steve Clark]