To Wear or Not to Wear a Hard Hat

To Wear or Not to Wear a Hard Hat

The human brain relies on the skull to protect it from damage.  But in spite this protection, the human skull was not designed to withstand hard knocks and falling objects of all shapes and sizes.  Most individuals in the oil field recognize this fact and take steps to obtain the necessary protection in the form of a safety hat.  Many are the headaches and lives that have been spared because of the wisdom shown by these people.  Records show that time and again employees have avoided serious and sometimes fatal injuries because they were wearing their safety hats.

It seems hardly credible, however, that accidents resulting in painful head injuries continue to take place because the employees involved are not wearing safety hats.  Apparently these people must believe that they are immune to the obvious dangers to which they expose themselves.  They continue to ignore the lessons learned by their fellow workers and offer a variety of excuses.  Too hot, too cold, too heavy and uncomfortable are but a few.  Just how uncomfortable is a hole in the head, one might ask?  “Better be glad you did rather than wish you had” when it comes to the question of “to wear or not to wear” a safety hat.

Hard hats give protection against blows through a combination of four factors: (a) when an object strikes the hat, the material itself resists the impact; (b) because of the hat’s shape, the force of the blow is distributed over its entire area; (c) the suspension acts as a shock absorber; and (d) the hat is able to deform (dent) and displace, or “roll with the punch,” further softening the blow.  The net result is that most blows never reach the head itself, and those which do reach the head have had a great deal of their force or energy dissipated by the hard hat.

The ability of an object to withstand impact without breaking depends to a large extent on its ability to “roll with the punch.” In all types of hard hats, the hard shell is held away from direct contact with the head by some system of suspension, which provides for space between the shell and the crown straps.

Most hard hat manufacturers include a stamp showing the date of manufacture, but while this tells you the age of the hat, it does not guarantee that a “new” hard hat is automatically safe for use.

Many people don’t realize that hard hats, both the shell and suspension, need to be inspected not only during assembly, but also before each use.  To inspect the shell of a hard hat, look for cracks, nicks, gouges, dents or damage caused by impact, penetration or abrasions.  If the hat is made of polyethylene or polycarbonate it should also be checked for stiffness, brittleness, fading dull color or a chalky appearance.  If the shell shows any of these traits, it should be removed from service immediately and replaced.

The suspension of the hard hat should be free of cracks or tears and the suspension straps free of any cuts or fraying.  The suspension should be pliable and show no other signs of wear.  All points in the suspension should fit tightly in their respective slots.  If any of these signs of wear appear, the suspension should be replaced with one appropriate for that shell.

Here are some additional hard hat tips:

  1. Never drill ventilation holes in a hard hat.
  2. Do not alter the shell or suspension in any way.
  3. Do not wear or carry anything in between the shell and the suspension of your hard hat.
  4. Only use a suspension that is made specifically for the shell. Hard hats should never be worn on top of everyday hats or caps (with the exception of winter liners made specifically for the hat) since they interfere with or eliminate the shock absorbing effect of the suspension.
  5. Hard hats should be replaced every five years. Hard hats exposed to heat or ultraviolet light may need to be replaced every two years.  Never store hard hats in the back window of a vehicle or other place where it is exposed to ultraviolet light.
  6. Keep coverage with stickers to a minimum so the hard hat can still be seen and inspected.
  7. Hard hats can only be worn backwards if the manufacturer states explicitly that the hat has been tested and passed in that manner and that the suspension is positioned as required by that test.
  8. If a hard hat has been dropped more than 8 to10 feet or has been struck forcibly, it should be replaced immediately.