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    Hard Facts for Hard Hats

    By Mark Conroy


    Hard Hat Specifications

    The starting point for worker safety is the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. With that Act, Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA ensures safe and healthful working conditions by establishing and enforcing standards. To ensure standards are met, OSHA compliance officers visit and inspect worksites. Citations are issued where violations are observed, which can result in fines or even imprisonment for violators.

    When it comes to hard hats, 29 CFR Subpart E, Personal Protective and Life Saving Equipment, 1926.95, Criteria for Personal Protective Equipment requires them wherever necessary by reason of hazards. This is meant as a general statement and includes provisions for other protective equipment. Specific criteria is contained in 1926.100, Head Protection, which requires hard hats where there is possible danger of head injury from impact, or from falling or flying objects, or from electrical shock and burns. "Possible danger" would apply not just to areas where there is a danger, but also includes most industrial work areas where there is a "possible danger".

    Generally speaking, all hard hats must provide protection from falling objects and comply with ANSI Z89.1, Standard for Industrial Head Protection. Some hard hats offer side impact protection or protection from electrical shock or burns.

    Hard hats, from Brooks, have been designed and tested to the crown impact requirements of ANSI Z89.1, Type I assuring maximum protection from falling objects.

    For protection from both falling and flying objects, the Brooks HH3 hard hat is the one that should be specified. Per the ANSI Z89.1, Type II protection for crown and side impact, these hard hats are designed for protection from falling, flying, or swinging objects. They come with a foam liner that protects the top, front, back, and sides of the head.

    All Brooks's hard hats are also rated for the highest level of electrical hazard (ANSI Z89.1, Class E, 20,000 volts of electricity). No matter whether the specification requires ANSI Z89.1 Class E, G, or C, the Brooks hard hats will comply.

    Table A provides a summary of specifications for Brooks's hard hats. All Brooks's hard hats can be fitted with a visor, hearing protection, and face shields except the Brooks HH4 due its full brim.

    Table A
    ANSI Z89.1 Specification Hard Hats

    Category Impact Type I Electrical Class E, G, and C
    HH1 Yes Yes
    HH2 Yes Yes
    HH3 Yes Yes
    HH4 Yes Yes

    The Class HH3 also meets ANSI Z89.1 Type II for side impact.

    Hard Hat Replacement

    Any hard hat that has lost its integrity due to a crack, split or penetration must be replaced. Frequent inspections will reveal the need for replacement due to damage. Also, if hard hats have experienced high impact or fall on hard pavement from any level of a structure, they should be replaced even if damage is not evident.

    Employers must establish a program for periodic replacement which is based on frequency of use, exposure to frequent impact and environmental factors including but not limited to sunlight, temperature extremes and chemical exposure. Although no hard hat should be in the field for more than 5 years, employers generally select a replacement within 2 to 3 years based on the above unless extreme conditions are encountered and dictate the need for annual replacement.

    The Compression Test

    In order to comply with ANSI Z89.1, Brooks's hard hats are made of high density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic, which exhibits an elastic property that is necessary for the protection of the user. A compression test should be conducted in the field at least annually to compare the HDPE properties of a new hard hat in comparison to one that has been worn for months.

    To perform this test, compress the sides inward about 1 or 2 inches. Release the pressure and observe the elasticity of the HDPE. A new hard hat will return quickly to its original shape. If a worn hard hat does not return to its original shape fairly quickly, the HDPE has lost some of its elasticity properties and will provide less protection. If a difference is noticeable between the two samples, the worn hard hat should be replaced.

    Summary

    Hard hats, from Brooks, meet the ANSI Z89.1 specification that requires protection from falling objects. The Brooks HH3 hard hat should be specifically used where ANSI Z89.1 Type II side impact protection is needed. For electrical hazards, all Brooks's hard hats meet the most stringent ANSI Z89.1, Class E testing criteria and can therefore be used to fulfill any ANSI Z89.1, Class E, G, or C specifications.

    Replace hard hats at periodic intervals based on a management replacement program as well as when damaged. Additionally over time, the HDPE in a hard hat loses its elasticity. Therefore a compression test should be performed annually to determine the need for replacement.

    Conclusion

    As an essential piece of personal protection equipment, hard hats provide the industrial worker with a reasonable level of protection from impact and penetration by falling or flying objects as well as electrical shocks and burns. Make sure to correctly order, maintain and periodically replace them.

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