OSHA announces switch from traditional hard hats to safety helmets. The goal is to better protect agency employees from head injuries.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced that the agency is replacing traditional hard hats used by its employees with more modern safety helmets to protect them better when they are on inspection sites.
In 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports head injuries accounted for nearly 6 percent of non-fatal occupational injuries involving days away from work. Almost half of those injuries occurred when workers were struck by an object or equipment and about 20 percent were caused by slips, trips and falls.
Traditional Hard Hats Need an Upgrade
Dating back to the 1960s, traditional hard hats protect the top of a worker’s head but have minimal side impact protection and do not have chin straps. Without the straps, traditional hard hats can easily fall off a worker’s head if they slip or trip, leaving them unprotected. In addition, traditional hard hats lack vents and trap heat inside.
Along with this announcement, OSHA published a Safety and Health Information Bulletin detailing key differences between traditional hard hats and more modern safety helmets. The bulletin highlights advancements in design, materials, and other features that help protect workers’ entire heads better. Additionally, today’s safety helmets may also offer face shields or goggles to protect against projectiles, dust, and chemical splashes. In fact, some more advanced helmets even offer built-in hearing protection and/or communication systems to enable clear communication in noisy environments.
The agency recommends safety helmets be used by people working in the construction industry and the oil and gas industry; in high-temperature, specialized work and low-risk environments; performing tasks involving electrical work and working from heights; and when required by regulations or industry standards.
Recommended Uses for Safety Helmets Instead of Hard Hats
- Construction Sites: Especially those with high risks of falling objects and debris, impacts from equipment, or slips, trips, and falls.
- Oil and Gas Industry: In these sectors where workers face multiple hazards, including potential exposure to chemicals and severe impacts.
- Working from Heights: For tasks or jobs that involve working from heights.
- Electrical Work: For tasks involving electrical work or proximity to electrical hazards.
- High-Temperature Environments: In high temperatures or where there is exposure to molten materials.
- Specialized Work Environments: Jobs that require integrated face shields, hearing protection or communication devices benefit from safety helmets designed with these features or the ability to add them on.
- Specific Regulatory Requirements: Where safety helmets are mandated by regulations or industry standards, employers must comply with these requirements to ensure worker safety compliance.
- Low-Risk Environments: Even in settings with no overhead hazards, safety helmets provide comprehensive protection.
In OSHA’s Safety and Health Information Bulletin they present the key differences between safety helmets and traditional hard hats. Including the advancements in design, materials, and protective features that help to protect the worker’s entire head. As well as providing instructions for properly inspecting and storing both safety helmets and traditional hard hats.
Properly storing head protection is crucial to maintain its structural integrity and to prevent damage. It is important to inspect head protection before each use. This will identify signs of wear, damage, or expiration. Always refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines for care, use, and storage.
Recommendations on How to Properly Care for Head Protection:
- Clean and dry head protection before storing.
- Inspect shell and suspension system for cracks, dents, or other signs of damage. Examine the headband and chin strap for wear and tear ensuring it is free from any signs of damage.
- Check for labels and certification marks. Make sure that the labels are legible and not tampered with.
- Verify date of manufacture and refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines for the recommended lifespan of your specific head protection model.
- Examine accessories and attachments. If your head protection has additional accessories or attachments inspect them for damage or signs of wear. Make sure they are securely fastened to the head protection and functioning correctly.
- Check for proper fit. Adjust the suspension system to achieve a snug fit without excessive pressure points. Head protection should not be too loose or too tight.
- Evaluate for damaged or loose parts by gently shaking your head (with the head gear on) to check for any loose or rattling components.
- Inspect interior cushioning for wear or compression. If it shows signs of deterioration, contact the manufacturer for replacement options.
- Assess previous impact damage. If your head protection has experienced an impact or has been subjected to a significant force, retire it immediately. Head protection is designed for single-use impact protection and may not retain its full effectiveness after an incident.
- Keep records: Maintain a record of each inspection, noting the date, any findings, and actions taken. Regularly document the date of purchase and any relevant information about the head protection to track its lifespan accurately.
At National Safety Compliance we offer everything you need for safety training compliance. A thorough understanding of both types of head protection options allows employers and workers to make informed decisions on which type to use. OSHA wants employers to make safety and health a core value in their workplaces and is committed to doing the same by leading by example and embracing the evolution of head protection.