Safety helmets serve many purposes with the overall goal to reduce the damaging effects to the brain and head from a violent blow or jolt to the head, neck, or body, or from a penetrating wound to the scalp and skull. Traumatic brain injury (TBI), a major cause of death and disability in the United States, is the primary concern from head trauma. A blow to the head resulting from a fall accounts for nearly half (48%) of all the TBI in the United States each year. Another 15% are the result of being struck by or against an object. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) specifies two major types of employees (work environment) who are required to wear head protection.
- Work environments where there is the potential for head trauma from falling objects, and
- Employees that work around exposed electrical conductors where the possibility of contact with the head exists
So, when seeking head protection, what characteristics should a person consider when choosing a safety helmet?
- The helmet should be of a type and quality that is approved for the type of work or activity you will be performing and the associated impact risks or hazards that could be present. Regardless of the setting, the helmet will be used, it should meet the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards. Also, specific to your unique circumstances, you will need to make a determination as to if you need a helmet that designed for protection against top-only impact (classified as Type I) or a helmet that provides broader protection including lateral impact, front, and back protection in addition to top protection (classified as Type II).
- If you will be working in an environment where there is the possibility for contact with electrical conductors, then knowing the helmet’s electrical insulation rating is important. A Class “C” (conductive) helmet provides no protection against electricity. A helmet rated Class “G” (General) is tested at 2,200 volts. A Class “E” (Electrical) rated helmet is tested to withstand 20,000 volts.
- The helmet should be comfortable to wear specific to the environment in which it will be worn. It is a documented fact that if a safety helmet is comfortable to wear it is more likely that it will be kept on the person’s head. New composite materials and enhanced design features have enabled helmet manufacturers to increase impact protection without a corresponding increase in the weight of the helmet, an important element to the wearer’s comfort. In addition, a more expansive webbing suspension harness design, sweat absorption guards, ventilation holes, padded chin straps and headband, and breathable features can also increase the level of comfort the wearer can experience.
- The helmet should include adjustable components so that the helmet can conform to different head sizes and shapes. A personalized fit not only increases wearer compliance, but it is also associated with better protection from impact. A helpful convenience is a helmet in which making size adjustments can be performed by one hand, thus allowing the helmet to remain on the head when the adjustment is made, helping to ensure optimum comfort and protection.
- The helmet should be designed to accommodate a variety of helmet accessories. Like so many devices, machines, and pieces of equipment where accessories enhance the user experience and make the purchase of only one product applicable, a helmet that is designed to accept various accessories, e.g., eye protection, hearing protection, headlight, visors, etc., reduces the number of the primary product that would need to be purchased for performance in a variety of tasks.
- Has the helmet received any professional awards for safety, product design or innovation? The safety industry answers to certain oversight guidelines and is highly scrutinized for its efforts to protect the worker. As part of these overarching protections, the industry conducts reviews and assessments and rewards manufacturers and their products with awards to acknowledge the advancements and achievements that have been accomplished. A search for helmet safety may result in a specific product’s recognition for contributions in safety protection.
What are some professions for which OSHA recommends the use of hard hats?
- Construction workers – carpenters, electricians, plumbers, pipefitters, welders
- Mechanics and repairers
- Assemblers, packers, wrappers, and freight handlers
- Timber cutters and loggers
- Stock handlers
A healthy and protected workforce is the desire of any employer and certainly the desire of the individual. Hard hats provide protection to head and brain injuries and much research and experimentation has been performed over the decades to help reduce the risk of injury and the extent of injury to the worker. Safety professionals and all those involved in the management of workers exposed to the potential for head trauma should thoroughly assess their individual and unique worksites for potential hazards and select worker safety helmets that meet required or recommended safety guidelines and also address the considerations listed above as they can have a profound impact on the worker helmet wear compliance. It is also important to remember that personal protection equipment is also made for the unexpected when there is no obvious immediate danger that can be observed to the worker, but an understanding that the worker’s environment can change in a moment.