Head protection for workers has come a long way over the past 50 years. Today, it’s unthinkable for a worker even to think of stepping on a construction site without some kind of hard hat or helmet. But there was a time, only a few decades ago, when NHL hockey players didn’t even wear helmets on the ice. Today, on the other hand, head protection is required for many professions — not just construction and hockey, but also forestry, mining, welding, pulp and paper, refineries, utilities and some kinds of manufacturing — and it’s essential to know which type you need.
“It’s really the knowledge on head protection,” says John Greer, president and chief operating officer of Dynamic Safety International (DSI), a safety-product manufacturer in Laval, Quebec. “They know much, much more about brain injuries, and not just concussions, but just steady, repetitive hits to the head.”
From one to two types
Before, Greer explains, there was only one standard type of hard hat for workers; it was designed to protect them from objects that fell on top of their heads. In the 1990s, the Canadian Standards Association — now called CSA Group — began recommending a second kind of hat that was developed to protect people from lateral impacts on the sides, front or back. When the original style of hard hat was brought back on the market, it became known as the Type 1 hat, with the newer one called the Type 2.
Most major players in the Canadian safety-gear market deal in both types of hard hats, including DSI, which claims to have the largest selection. While some laymen may choose to buy Type 1 because they don’t realize there’s a difference, Greer says, “Large industrial and large construction are slowly moving to the Type 2. Government and cities moved to a Type 2 hat almost immediately 20 years ago.” Waste-management companies have almost universally adopted Type 2 as the standard hat, he adds, while Toronto and Winnipeg city employees and Manitoba Hydro workers also use it.
In Canada, CSA’s Standard Z94.1-15, or Industrial Protective Headwear — Performance, selection, care and use, offers up-to-date information on classification, selection, care and use of head protectors. In addition to the two main Types, CSA also groups hard hats into three classes: E, which provides protection against 20,000 volts of electric shock in addition to impact; G, which protects against 2,200 volts; and C, which has no electrical rating.
As with other kinds of personal protective equipment, the standard recommends that employers conduct hazard assessments of their respective workplaces before choosing a type and brand of hard hat. Claudio Dente, president of Dentec Safety Specialists Inc. in Newmarket, Ontario, cites the CSA standard as the guide to go by when selecting head protection for employees at a worksite. “It’s very clear and simple for the end user to use this template that CSA has, to identify the types of hazards that you’d be exposed to and then picking the best head protector for that application,” he says. “Factors that they should look at are weight and comfort, of course.”
Dentec sells head-protection equipment through a line called ERB, which offers a diverse line of hard hats manufactured in the United States. “We have a complete line and offering that not only meets, but is certified to, CSA’s latest standards,” Dente notes.
Here comes the sun
Although we think of helmets and hard hats as protection from physical impact, both Greer and Dente note that these products are also designed to protect from UV rays from the sun today. “Think of it just like wearing a baseball cap, to keep the sun off your eyes and your face as best as possible,” explains Dente. “All hard hats, according to the CSA requirements, have to give some type of UV protection. So it’s the manufacturer’s responsibility to prove that.”
Hard hats specially intended for UV protection are typically designed with wider brims, says Greer. “They originally were created for the oil industry,” he says, “and the mining industry.” One of their purposes was to catch falling gravel in mines, so that it wouldn’t hit workers’ faces. But today, many parks workers, highway paving crews and other outdoor workers wear wide-brim hard hats for UV protection. “If you’re putting your workers out in the sun eight hours a day,” Greer points out, “you’ve got to protect them from getting skin cancer.”
DSI’s “Kilimanjaro”, available in both Type 1 and Type 2, is a prime example of a full-brim hard hat designed specifically to protect workers from the sun, in addition to impacts. “There is a movement from a regular-shaped hard hat to a full-brim hat,” Greer notes. “Virtually all utility workers in the United States are in full-brims now.”
In order to keep hard hats working at their peak level and lasting longer, Dente recommends that workers inspect them daily. The two key areas to check are the shell itself and the interior webbing. “Are there any cracks or scars that the hat’s been exposed to, that would prevent it from withstanding the impact?” he says, regarding the shell. “The suspensions are normally made out of nylon webbing, and you need to make sure that there’s no deterioration in the webbing. Again, if that occurs, then it will not be able to provide the impact protection that it’s supposed to.”
If either the shell or the webbing is flawed, then the employer must replace either the deteriorated suspension or the hat entirely, adds Dente. “And you’ve got to be careful how you clean it,” he says. “Make sure you don’t use a solvent that might deteriorate plastic.”
The CSA standard also recommends care and maintenance, but Greer says that far too many workers and employers neglect them. “Should they wash and clean it with mild soap and detergent? Yes. Does anybody do it? No,” he says. “I don’t think that anybody does. And if you take a look at a really rough construction guy, his hat is a mess.”
Greer himself recommends replacing the shell of the hat every five years and the suspension annually. “And the main reason for changing the suspension every year is more of a hygienic reason than it is for a safety reason.”
So hard hats are way ahead of where they used to be — but it’s up to the company and the employees to choose and maintain properly, in order to get the maximum protection out of them.
Jeff Cottrill is the editor of Canadian Occupational Health and Safety News.