OSHA Standards for Wearing a Hard Hat

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When working a construction or manufacturing job, a hard hat is an essential tool for keeping workers protected against life-altering injuries or death. Therefore, it is critical that employers and their employees understand what types of hard hats are necessary for a particular profession, the requirements for wearing them, and how to care for them. According to Graphic Products, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a division of the U. S. Department of Labor, regulates these requirements by incorporating standards from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

OSHA Standards for Hard Hats

According to OSHA, there are two standards governing requirements for hard hats:

  • 29 CFR 1910.135 for workers in general industry: Employees must wear a protective hat where injury from possible falling objects may occur. They must wear a hard hat designed to lessen an electrical shock hazard if they work around exposed electric conductors.
  • 29 CFR 1926.100 for workers in construction, demolition and renovation. Employees must wear a protective hat where impact injuries from falling or flying objects, or electrical shock and burns may occur.

OSHA and ANSI both have specific hard hat categories that companies must meet. There are two types of hard hats with three classes, according to ANSI Z89.1. A hat that meets ANSI standards is usually also OSHA compliant. The standard also defines a hat's design and performance requirements as well as testing guidelines to ensure compliance with OSHA requirements.

ANSI Hard Hat Categories

ANSI bases its hard hat categories on how much electrical hazard protection a hat provides and how much of the head it covers. The two types of hard hats are:

  • Type I: This hat protects the top of the worker's head. It is the most common hard hat in the United States.
  • Type II: This hat covers the top and sides of a worker's head. It is the most common hard hat in Europe.

According to Cooper Safety, the ANSI bases three classes of hard hats on how well they protect from electrical hazard. They are:

  • Class G (General): Rated for 2,200 volts. This low voltage-designated hat protects the head, but does not offer voltage protection to the rest of the body.
  • Class E (Electrical): Rated for 20,000 volts. This high voltage-designated hat protects the head but does not offer voltage protection to the rest of the body.
  • Class C (Conductive): This hat does not offer electrical protection. However, it may have vents to protect workers from impact and may offer greater breathability through its construction via conductive materials and additional ventilation.

How to Tell if a Hard Hat Is ANSI-Compliant

The ANSI also has standards regarding compliant labeling. Instructions for hat care and use do not need to be placed on the hard hat but must be with it. Hard hats that do not have the information listed below may not show OSHA compliance. Anyone who has questions about a hard hat should contact the manufacturer for further documentation. A hard hat must have this information marked on the inside:

  • Hard hat manufacturer's name.
  • Number of the ANSI standard that the hat conforms with.
  • Type and class designation.
  • Size range.
  • Date of manufacture.

A hard hat must also contain this labeling:

  • Two arrows that curve to form a circle when a worker wears the hat forward or backward.
  • "LT" denotes that a hat provides protection at low temperatures under 22 degrees F (-30 degrees C).
  • "HV" indicates that a hat meets the requirements for increased visibility.

Additional Hard Hat Labels

When labeling a hard hat, it should not be for decoration. Instead, the label should help identify a worker in case of an emergency or show authorization for a worker to be in a specific area. Names, titles and certifications are all acceptable for use on a hard hat, but any labeling must not adversely impact its protective rating or make defects and damage harder to spot.

While ANSI does not restrict hard hat labels, OSHA standard 1910.132(a) requires that workers keep their protective headgear in "sanitary and reliable condition." In its Letter of Interpretation (October 27, 2009), the organization expressed concern that a label can remove electrical resistance or hide defects or damage that would be otherwise noticeable. It further explains that any labeling on a must show compliance with instructions from the manufacturer, and an employer must prove that a hard hat's labeling does not cover defects or affect its reliability.

Knowing When to Replace a Hard Hat

An inspection should take place before someone uses a hard hat, but a visual inspection is only one way to make sure a hat is safe. When a hat shows damage, replacement should occur. Grasping the hat in two hands and squeezing it with force is another way to test a hat. If creaking or any other odd sounds emanate from it with this stress test, the worker needs a new, more reliable hard hat.

OSHA has no expiration date requirements regarding hats, but a manufacturer may give a hard hat a specific expiration date and it may expire if OSHA changes its requirements. If there is no expiration date, the rule of thumb is to replace a hat's support strap annually and the hat itself every five years. Do not use harsh chemicals on a hat to clean it, as they can make it degrade quickly; extreme temperatures aren't good for hard hat longevity, either. Workers should check manufacturer guidelines for the proper maintenance and replacement tips and regularly check with OSHA to ensure that their hat remains compliant.