Over the years I’ve noticed there are five questions about hard hats that are repeatedly asked. However, the Federal OSHA standards on head protection do not directly address these five questions (although some of the state OSHA programs might). And if you’ve ever researched the Federal OSHA letters of interpretation about hard hat use in construction or general industry, you’ve found they generally defer to the hard hat manufacturers on issues about proper use and care, recommending employers follow their guidance.
So I thought I’d list these five questions that often come up about hard hats, and provide the answers that are provided by three of the major manufacturers of hard hats on their web sites. And you may be surprised (or maybe not) to find that the manufacturers are not always in agreement on the answers! Please note these recommendations are based on these manufacturers’ web sites as of the date this blog was created; always check the manufacturer’s web site as well as the printed materials that come with your hard hat for their latest recommendations. And be aware that in some cases, the manufacturers’ guidance listed here are restricted to a particular model or type of hard hat; in those cases, information about a different model of hard hat will have to be obtained from that manufacturer. And this manufacturer’s guidance is subject to change over time.
QUESTION #1 – Can I wear a ball cap beneath my hard hat?
MSA V-Gard: “The use of a baseball cap may interfere with the capability of the suspension of our helmets to work properly during an impact. Therefore, it is MSA’s recommendation that you should not place a baseball cap between your head and the suspension.”
BULLARD: “Bullard hard hats/caps meet or exceed ANSI Z89.1-2003 standards for industrial worker protective headwear. Currently, there are no requirements or tests to examine the effect that a cap or any other object worn inside a hard hat may have on hard hat performance. Therefore, Bullard recommends that hard hat users should never carry or wear anything inside a hard hat. Bullard makes this recommendation for the following reasons:
- A clearance must be maintained between the hard hat shell and the wearer’s head for the protection system to work properly. An additional cap or other object may limit this clearance.
- Wearers may be unaware that the cap or object contains metal parts, such as a metal button at the top of a baseball cap, which may diminish the dielectric protection provided by the hard hat.
- Under no circumstances should any item be placed above or below the crown straps. This will affect the performance of the hard hat. Users should note that some products, such as fabric winter-liners and cotton sunshades, are designed to work in conjunction with hard hats.”
NORTH/FIBRE-METAL: “Wearing a baseball hat under a hard hat will interfere with the suspension and shell which work together to reduce the force of an impact. The bill of the baseball cap worn under a hard hat will not allow the head protection to sit level on the head, in the work position. North/Fibre Metal recommends NOT wearing a baseball hat under a hard hat.
A hooded sweatshirt, winter liners and cooling headwear should not affect the performance of a hard hat if these products are worn properly and are fitted smoothly on the head. Winter liners are designed to attach to the hard hat suspension and seat down onto the head. Cooling bandanas and kerchiefs should also be worn completely down on the head so it does not interfere with the suspension bands.”
QUESTION #2 – Can I wear my hard hat backwards?
MSA V-Gard: “Since the suspension attachment points on an MSA V-Gard helmet (except those with a UniPro® suspension) are the same from front to back, the suspension can be reversed and the cap worn with the brim facing the rear and still meet the requirements of the applicable protective headwear standard (ANSI Z89.1-1997). Be sure that the suspension has been reversed so that the nape strap is in the rear.”
BULLARD: “Bullard ANSI Z89 Type 1 hard hats have been tested and found to be compliant to the requirements of the standard when worn with the shell turned backwards. To perform properly in this manner, the suspension must be reversed in the helmet, so that the headband is oriented normally to the wearer’s head (i.e., with the brow pad against the forehead and the extended nape strap at the base of the skull). In this manner, only the shell of the helmet is backwards on the head. This applies to Z89.1-2003 Type 1 helmets only (Bullard models C30, 3000, C33, 303, 302RT, 4100, 502, S51, S61, S62, S71, 911C & 911H).
ANSI Z89.1-2003 Type 2 helmets (Advent® and Vector), because of the lower rear edge of the shell and the asymmetrical pattern of protection offered by their more complex design, should not be worn backwards.”
NORTH FIBRE-METAL: Question not specifically addressed on their web site.
QUESTION #3 – Do I have to replace my hard hat when it reaches a certain age?
MSA V-Gard: “The V-Gard helmet was designed with high quality, wear-resistant materials but it WILL NOT last forever. The protective properties of the helmet WILL be degraded by exposure to many common work environments, such as temperature extremes, chemical exposure, sunlight and normal daily wear and tear. MSA recommends the following replacement schedule:
· Suspension—replace after NO MORE THAN 12 months;
· Entire Helmet—replace after NO MORE THAN 5 years
Remember that these are MAXIMUM useful service life guidelines. Wear or damage noticed during a regular inspection MUST be the determining factor for possible earlier replacement. In any case, ALWAYS replace the helmet after it has withstood impact or penetration.”
BULLARD: “Users of industrial head protection devices must realize that these products do not have an indefinite useful life. Bullard recommends that a regular head protection replacement program be conducted by employers as a responsive solution to the task of addressing service life of hard hats/caps. Since the details of such a program must be developed based on work conditions at each job site, it is impossible to provide a specific time frame for cap replacement. As a general guideline, many large corporations replace all employees’ caps every five years, regardless of the cap’s outward appearance.
Where user environments are known to include higher exposure to temperature extremes, sunlight or chemicals, hard hats/caps should be replaced automatically after two years of use. This is based on information and cap samples returned to Bullard after exposure to such conditions. In certain rare instances, a cap may need to be replaced within less than two years.
If a cap has been struck by a forcible blow of any magnitude, both the hard hat shell and suspension should be replaced immediately, even if no damage is visible. The following is a simple field test that can be performed by an employee or supervisor to determine possible degradation of polyethylene shells:
Compress the shell inward from the sides about 1” (2.5 cm) with both hands and then release the pressure without dropping the shell. The shell should quickly return to its original shape, exhibiting elasticity. Compare the elasticity of the sample with that of a new shell. If the sample does not exhibit elasticity similar to that of a new shell, or if it cracks due to brittleness, it should be replaced immediately.”
NORTH FIBRE-METAL: “Service life of a hard hat is job, environment and maintenance specific, but it is a good idea to have a preventive maintenance program. We suggest replacing the hard hat suspension yearly or every two years. Keep records of purchases so the hard hat can be replaced on a regular basis. The shell, suspension and headband of the hard hat should be visually inspected daily. Look for cracks, dents, or wear that might reduce the protection of the hard hat. Check the suspension tabs (connects the suspension to the shell) for cracks and the straps for fraying or tearing. Replace the hard hat if it shows any signs of significant wear or damage.”
QUESTION #4 – Can I paint the shell of my hard hat?
MSA V-Gard: “Never paint a V-Gard helmet. Paint may attack and damage the helmet’s shell, thereby reducing the degree of protection originally provided.”
BULLARD: Question not specifically addressed on their web site.
NORTH/FIBRE-METAL: “Do not paint . . . without the written permission of North Safety Products. Paint can attack the shell and cause degradation . . ..”
QUESTION #5 – Can I put stickers on my hard hat?
MSA V-Gard: “It is permissible to use pressure-sensitive stickers or tape with self-adhesive backing AS LONG AS THEY ARE NOT closer than ½ inch from the edge of the helmet. According to MSA’s testing, such stickers or tape in such a location will not affect the burn-through (i.e. dielectric classification) or the structure of an MSA helmet. However, because it is impossible for us to test all pressure-sensitive adhesives, caution should still be taken when making use of such materials. Also, be sure that when these are applied that you are not covering any damage on the helmet.”
BULLARD: “The use of self-adhesive stickers by individual users to “personalize” their hard hats or for other marking or identification purposes is a common practice. Because of the type of adhesive used in typical pressure-sensitive stickers, there is very little potential for chemical interaction between the adhesive and the helmet shell, and their use would not be expected to negatively affect the performance of the helmet under normal conditions. Adhesive stickers should be placed at least ¾” away from the edge of the helmet, and the area of the helmet covered in this way should be kept to a practical minimum to permit regular inspection of the helmet shell for signs of damage from use or aging. If any surface cracks, however small, should appear on the shell surface, either in the vicinity of the stickers or elsewhere, the helmet should be removed from service and replaced immediately. The best practice is always to use the helmet as it was received from the manufacturer, or to consult the manufacturer before making any product modifications.”
NORTH/FIBRE-METAL: “Do not . . . apply decals or stickers without the written permission of North Safety Products. . . . Stickers can cover cracks or damage on the shell.”
So there you have it, recommendations from three of the major hard hat manufacturers in response to these frequently asked questions. I found it interesting that for some questions, their answers were essentially the same, but on a couple of questions, one of the manufacturers would take a stance that is the polar opposite of the other two.
Hopefully this information will prove helpful when you conduct OSHA training and/or worksite safety inspections. And keep in mind that these web sites also answer a few other questions about hard hat care and use, including their policies and prohibitions against unauthorized modification of hard hats (like drilling holes in the shell . . .). Of course, always check the manufacturers’ websites for updated information about their products. And information about all other brands and/or models of hard hats will have to be obtained from the manufacturer of that specific brand and/or model of equipment.
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