Hard Hat Requirements

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The U.S. Department of Labor oversees the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA is the federal authority issuing guidelines for wearing of hardhats. They also set the minimum safety standards for hardhat design. OSHA regulations 29 CFR 1926.100(a) state: "Employees working in areas where there is a possible danger of head injury from impact, or from falling or flying objects, or from electrical shock and burns, shall be protected by protective helmets. " Companies and other governing bodies may have alternative and/or stricter standards. It is important for employers to be familiar with local laws and codes.

Hard Hat History

Construction worker at Douglas Dam--1942

Hard hats can be found as helmets throughout history. Soldiers have adapted helmets for head protection from the beginning of military record keeping. The helmets developed in WWI were made out of metal and widely used by all soldiers. After the war, these helmets were adapted for worker safety on construction sties and in manufacturing settings. The industrial hard hats were initially made from metal, then they evolved to fiberglass. Hardened reinforced plastic hard hats are the most common types of hard hats used today.


Hard hat with safety glass

As heavy industry grew in the early twentieth century, so did the number of work-related injuries. There were many injuries at mines, construction sites and heavy manufacturing facilities. Hard hats were developed to limit the number of serious head injuries.


Archeological site

Hard hats can be found in almost all heavy industrial work situations. Miners use them to protect from falling rock. Constructions workers wear hard hats to protect from most types of danger. This includes the potential for falling tools from above. Side impact from unseen obstacles (low beams, improperly stored lumber or equipment). There are separately rated hard hats to protect from electrical shock and lightweight hats with chin straps to protect plant workers from injury by bumping into pipes and machinery in tight quarters.


OSHA has revised standards several times in the last 30 years for hard hats. There are three top standards: ANSI Type I, CSA Type 1 hard hats must meet strict vertical impact minimum resistance standards. ANSI Type II, CSA Type 2 hard hats require not only the vertical minimum resistance but also a side resistance standard that is cushioned by a foam addition. * A Class E hard hat must insulate against up to 20,000 volts of an electrical shock. There is also something referred to as the Bump Hat. It doesn't meet the vertical impact requirements but is worn where there is a danger of employees bumping their heads on fixed equipment. These often have a chin strap (Kerr Mcgee Corporation developed a version for its oil refinery).


Mine helmet

Hard hat colors often carry a job-centered significance on construction sites. White is often designated for managers. Red is used by inspectors. Blue for technical advisers, and yellow is worn by laborers.

Additional Features

Hard hats continue to evolve. The most recent research is centered on designing a hard hat that is made from a hardened mesh to keep the worker cool. Hard hats often have slots to add lights, mirrors (for rear views while working in a dangerous and noisy environment), ear flaps (for warmth) and safety visors.


About the Author

Richard Mergener co-wrote and co-produced a short dramatic film, "The Visitor" 25 years ago with founding members of Steppenwolf Theater. He wrote and directed "30 Good Minutes" (PBS Chicago) 15 years ago, and produced a documentary that was nominated in 2008 for an NAACP Image Award in Los Angeles. He blogs and tweets daily about solar energy.

Photo Credits

  • Oil field workers, Wikepedia Public Domain