One of the requirements imposed at a construction site is to wear a hard hat. Hard hats are well known for durability. They do not wear down easily. However, the hard hat could be like a ticking bomb because it tends to become more crisp and weak as time goes by. According to the majority of hard hat manufacturer’s, the hat must be replaced every 5 years no matter what it looks like. Also, there is a good probability that it may have an even shorter service life depending on the condition of the suspension webbing located inside the hats shell. Most manufacturers state that the webbing should be replaced at least every 12 months because it is softer and easier to break than the outer shell.
Besides checking the hats expiration date, it should be cleaned regularly and before each use, checked for cracks, dents, gouges and any impact damage which include abrasions, penetration or signs of tear that could reduce the degree of protection provided by the hat. You should replace the hat right away if you see such damage to the hat. Most manufacturers of hard hats cover or coat the outer shell with a protective layer to resist the rigors of weather. However, if used in extreme conditions, the hat’s expiration speeds up. This is mostly the case when used in workplaces with high temperatures and hazardous chemicals. Typically, the life span of the hat is shortened by 2 years when put under these conditions. Hard hats are vital for the safety of a worker in a construction site. However, it is also important to remember that the hat alone can not provide sufficient protection in the workplace. The worker must be extra careful and should keep him/herself watchful and safe at all times.
How to Determine Your Hard Hat's Expiration Date
ANSI/ISEA Z89.1-2009 standard requires particular information to be permanently printed inside each hard hat, including the date of manufacture. According to the manufacturer’s guidelines, the longest period of time a hat should be in service is four to five years from the date that it was manufactured. If the hat is visibly serviceable, you can calculate the expiration date by checking the date of manufacture as explained on the following page. Additionally, workers should use a permanent marker to record the date they begin to use their head protection. This date will vary from the date of manufacture but may be needed for documentation in case of injury or accident. The manufacturer must also include the following information on the inside of the hat: manufacturer name, ANSI/ISEA standard designation, and the appropriate Type and Class.
Looking under the bill of the hat or sometimes located inside the shell, you will find a circular stamped or labeled time marker showing the month and year manufactured as illustrated here.
Proper maintenance of your hat ensures a longer life. Clean it with soapy water. Cleaning products may contain ingredients that could have an unfavorable reaction with your helmet, compromising its integrity before its expected expiration date. Do not intentionally do anything that can shorten the lifespan of your hat, such as paint it. This essential piece of safety equipment must be kept in top condition.
Inspect Your Hat for Signs of Wear
Since hard hats are durable pieces of equipment, it may not be obvious that yours has become compromised unless you do a regular inspection of it. Inspect the shell for signs of damage such as dents, gouges, scrapes, holes or cracks. Look at the shell to see if it’s faded or chalky looking—these are signs of aging. If you drop the hat on a hard surface or receive a blow to your head, inspect it carefully before continuing to use it. The suspension inside the shell actually absorbs the impact protecting your head, and it needs to be routinely checked for wear. Check for signs of excessive wear, fraying, cuts or tears, and dirt. The suspension can be washed with soapy water. When replacing the suspension, use a product from the same company that manufactured your hard hat.
Standard Hard Hat Types and Classes
According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), a hard hat must be worn: “when working in areas where there is a potential for injury to the head from falling objects.” In addition, a hard hat must also be worn in working areas where there is the risk of exposure to electrical conductors that can potentially contact the head. In these types of environments, specially designed protective helmets are required in order to counteract the dangers of electrical shock hazards. Hard hats that are considered to be “OSHA approved” meet the minimum criteria established by the American National Standards (ANSI) and the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA), in accordance with the most current ANSI/ISEA Z89.1-2009 standard.
If a hard hat is necessary, the next step is selecting the appropriate hat for your work environment. ANSI divided protective helmets into different types and classes. A hard hat type indicates the designated level of impact protection, while a hard hat class indicates the degree of electrical performance.
Hard Hat Types
Hard hat protection is divided into two categories: Type I and Type II
Type I Hard Hats are intended to reduce the force of impact resulting from a blow only to the top of the head. This form of impact, for example, may result from a hammer or nail gun falling from above.
Type II Hard Hats are intended to reduce the force of impact resulting
from a blow which may be received off-center, from the side, or to the top of the head. This form of impact, for example, may result from contact with the sharp corner of a side beam.
Hard Hat Classes
According to ANSI/ISEA Z89.1-2009 and Canadian CSA Z94.1-2005 standards, hard hat electrical performance is divided into three categories: Class E, Electrical; Class G, General, and; Class C, Conductive.
Class E (Electrical) Hard Hats
Class E (Electrical) Hard Hats are designed to reduce exposure to high voltage conductors, and offer dielectric protection up to 20,000 volts (phase to ground). This amount of voltage protection, however, is designated to the head only, and is not an indication of voltage protection allocated to the user as a whole. Formerly associated with a "Class B" rating, Class E hard hats may also be considered to have a Class G (General) rating, as their increased level of voltage protection surpasses the (lower) required standards of the Glass G testing procedure.
Class G (General) Hard Hats
Class G (General) Hard Hats are designed to reduce exposure to low voltage conductors, and offer dielectric protection up to 2,200 volts (phase to ground). As is the case with Class E hard hats, this amount of voltage protection is designated to the head only, and does not account for voltage protection allocated to the user as a whole. The Class G hard hats are commonly worn by iron workers who require a certain degree of dielectric protection. The Class G hard hat was formerly categorized as "Class A”.
Class C (Conductive) Hard Hats
Class C (Conductive) Hard Hats differ from their counterparts in that they are not intended to provide protection against contact with electrical conductors. On the contrary, Class C hard hats may include vented options, which not only protect the wearer from impact, but also provide increased breathability through their conductive material (such as aluminum) or added ventilation.
How can I identify the type and class of my current hard hat?
It is important to know that all hard hats that adhere to ANSI/ISEA standards contain a label of certification on the inside of the hard hat shell. This label identifies the type and class standards the hard hat was designed to meet. If your current hard hat label is missing or is no longer legible, it is recommended that you replace your hard hat as soon as possible. The image below is an example of a hard hat ANSI/ISEA label of certification, and how the label indicates the applicable type, class, and ANSI standards met.