Personal protective equipment is a critical element of job site safety. With deaths resulting from traumatic brain injury (TBI) accounting for one-fourth of all fatalities in the construction industry from 2003 to 2010, the National Safety Council (NSC) is targeting head protection, per a November 2022 release.
“It’s an absolute must in most hazardous environments,” said David Consider, senior safety consultant for the NSC.
Workers in other industries are also at risk for TBI, leading the NSC to review existing OSHA standards for head protection and to consider evolving technology and trends.
In 2012, OSHA adopted ANSI/ISEA Z89.1 as the standard on head protection. It rates head protection by type and class:
- Type 1 reduces the force of impact only from blows to the top of the head.
- Type 2 reduces the force of impact from blows to the top and sides of the head.
- Class G reduces danger from exposure to low-voltage electrical conductors of up to 2,200V.
- Class E reduces danger from exposure to high-voltage electrical conductors of up to 20,000V.
- Class C doesn’t protect from electrical conductors.
It’s important to assess job hazards in determining what type of head protection is appropriate.
“The voltage ratings for Class G hardhats for general use and Class E hardhats for utility workers are a must in our electrical industry,” said Wesley Wheeler, NECA’s executive director of safety.
After determining the correct type of head protection, it’s important to verify proper fit. According to Consider, improper fit is the main excuse for not wearing head protection.
To achieve proper fit, the hat shouldn’t fall off when the wearer bends over, there should be a 1- to 1¼-inch gap between the hard shell and head, and the bill should face forward. Wearing hard hats backwards (known as reverse donning) can impede their effectiveness unless a reverse donning symbol indicates that the manufacturer certifies testing meets Z89.1 requirements.
A revision of Z89.1 rumored for 2024 to address side impact and chin straps is influenced by a European safety standard for mountaineering-style construction helmets, said Stacey Simmons, chair of the International Safety Equipment Association’s Head Protection Product Group. There is currently no comparable U.S. standard.
“Understanding that OSHA is years behind in adopting updated standards to be incorporated, OSHA does recognize that newer technologies and styles are becoming available that offer better protection,” Wheeler said. “For electricians and electrical contractors, head protection is a must when working around electrical circuits, and that protection can only be utilized if the head protection stays in place. While chin straps on hardhats have been required when working around helicopters and other specific instances, the move to include this on the newer helmet-style hardhats can ensure the protection will stay in place where it is needed, when it is needed.”
Another developing trend is a shock-absorber that releases air when head protection is affected. “The need to provide more comfortable, practical and better protective headwear is why manufacturers continue to seek improvements in this type of PPE,” Wheeler said.
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Lori Lovely is an award-winning writer and editor in central Indiana. She writes on technical topics, heavy equipment, automotive, motorsports, energy, water and wastewater, animals, real estate, home improvement, gardening and more. Reach her at: [email protected]