The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is switching from the customary hard hat to a modern safety helmet for its safety inspectors.
In its Nov. 22, 2023 Safety and Health Information Bulletin, OSHA explains the differences between the two types of head gear, while listing some advances in design and materials that offer better protection. Safety helmets sometimes feature optional face shields or goggles for added defense against dust, chemical splashes and projectiles. They may also offer built-in hearing protection or communication systems for optimizing safe, clear communication on noisy work sites.
In 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics issued a report revealing that head injuries totaled 6% of nonfatal occupational injuries involving days off work. Nearly half of them were the result of a worker coming in contact with equipment or some other object, while 20% were the result of slips, trips or falls.
In response, safety equipment has evolved, including head protection. In the 1960s, hard hats offered minimal side impact protection and had no chin straps, allowing the hats to come off during a slip or trip. Without vents, heat built up inside.
OSHA has long recommended that workers in construction and oil and gas industries, and those performing electrical work, working in high-temperature environments, or working from heights wear safety helmets.
This move is another step on the evolution of head protection, and is a signal to industries such as electrical construction about the value of using helmets for head protection.
“Switching from conventional hard hats to helmets provides additional protection by providing chin straps for securing helmets in place and internal cushioning in the event of a fall,” said Wesley Wheeler, executive director of safety for NECA.
Emphasizing the importance of chin straps, “Falls from the same level—tripping, for example—can displace a traditional hard hat,” Wheeler said. “By switching to helmets with chin strap supports, OSHA can protect most of their employees and inspectors when they are in the field and on job sites.”
He noted that many traumatic brain injuries result from falls of less than 6 feet, especially if the hard hat falls off because it lacks a chin strap, leaving no head protection.
While OSHA recommends safety helmets in many job site situations, the agency also refers workers to specific industry standards and regulations. That’s why Wheeler noted that, while the newer helmets OSHA is using have ventilation slots for cooling, “… helmets that electrical personnel use cannot have any openings. Electricians would have to use helmets that did not have any ventilation slots to maintain insulating requirements for proper protection from electrical hazards.”
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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]