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Is Your Head Protection Expired?

And other things to know about this important form of PPE

By: Shana McGuinn, Contributor

The head protection should fit the wearer comfortably and securely and not be loose or too tight. © pressmaster – stock.adobe.com

Tools falling from high above, power lines, objects being swung by a crane or dropped by a forklift — any of these can cause severe head trauma when they come into contact with a worker. Concussions, skull fractures, electrical shock, lacerations, burns and traumatic brain injuries are possible consequences. The affects of these injuries can be short- or long-term and, in severe cases, fatal.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics[1] (BLS), workers in the U.S. suffered 155,830 head injuries from 2021-2022 that involved days away from work, restricted activity or a job transfer. Of those, 32,380 were intracranial injuries, including cerebral hemorrhages and concussions.

Traditional hard hats have long been the standard when it comes to workplace head protection. This iconic headgear, generally made of high-density polyurethane, has provided a measure of safety over the decades for workers in a variety of industries, from construction to manufacturing, transportation to utilities. They still do, in plenty of environments.

Safety helmets have emerged as an additional head protection choice. Design innovations and the development and adaption of new materials make them a good fit for some workers. Shells made of fiberglass, composites and thermoplastic result in safety helmets that are relatively lightweight and comfortable to wear over long periods of time, while offering a high degree of impact resistance. If a wearer experiences a slip, trip or fall, a chin strap holds the safety helmet in position, thus reducing the likelihood of a head injury.

Whichever type or model is chosen, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends checking:

  • The date of manufacture, which generally can be found inside the shell
  • The manufacturer’s guidelines
  • The labels and certification marks

The manufacturer’s guidelines will specify the recommended lifespan of the model, and the date of manufacture will tell you whether or not the head protection has expired. Using a too-old hard hat or safety helmet will not provide the desired level of protection. The labels and certification marks will verify that the head protection meets the required safety standards.

The head protection should fit the wearer comfortably and securely and not be loose or too tight. The wearer should gently shake their head. If that action indicates that components are loose or damaged, the head protection should be inspected by a qualified person before it is used.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN AN INSPECTION

Before each use, inspect the head protection carefully:

  • Look for — and feel for — cracks or dents in the outer shell.
  • Tug lightly at the headband and chin strap, to verify that they are securely attached to the shell.
  • Examine goggles, face shields, earmuffs or any other accessories or attachments for signs of wear and tear. These, too, should be securely attached to the head protection.
  • If the head protection’s interior padding is worn or compressed, contact the manufacturer for a replacement. Cushioning that is in poor condition will not provide the comfort and impact absorption it is intended to provide.

CLEANING AND STORAGE

It is also important to take proper care of the head protection, to ensure that it will maintain its structural integrity and its ability to protect the wearer:

  • After each use, clean the exterior of the hard hat or safety helmet with mild soap or water, to remove harmful chemicals or debris. Allow it to air-dry in a cool place.
  • Store the head protection in a place where it will not be exposed to extreme temperatures, direct sunlight or corrosive substances.

OTHER IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS

Maintaining a record of head protection and other forms of PPE will help ensure that the equipment being used is viable. The date of purchase should be recorded and inspection details such as dates, findings and actions taken should be documented.

Visible damage is not always the only indicator that the structural integrity of the head protection has been compromised. If the equipment has been on the receiving end of a strong force or impact, it should be discarded. Per OSHA, “Head protection is designed for single-use impact protection and may not retain its full effectiveness after an incident.”[2]

For detailed guidelines on the care, use and storage of head protection, always consult the manufacturer’s guidelines.

RELEVANT STANDARDS

OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.135 – Head Protection2 outlines the requirements for head protection in general industry workplaces. It covers criteria for choosing appropriate head protection and the responsibilities of employers and rights of employees in ensuring compliance.

ANSI/ISEA Z89.1 – Industrial Head Protection[3] specifies performance and testing requirements for industrial head protection, including safety helmets and hard hats. WMHS

Shana McGuinn is a freelance writer who contributes articles about occupational safety, environmental issues, health and wellness.

[1]www.bls.gov/iif/nonfatal-injuries-and-illnesses-tables.htm

[2]www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/publications/safety_helmet_shib.pdf

[3]http://tinyurl.com/ANSI-ISEA-Z891

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