It is no longer news that OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has announced that the agency is replacing traditional hard hats used by its employees with more modern safety helmets to protect them better when they are on inspection sites.
This was borne out of the need to reduce head injuries which has been quite high over the years. In 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports head injuries accounted for nearly 6 percent of non-fatal occupational injuries involving days away from work. Almost half of those injuries occurred when workers came in contact with an object or equipment while about 20 percent were caused by slips, trips and falls.
On Nov. 22, 2023, OSHA published a Safety and Health Information Bulletin detailing key differences between traditional hard hats and more modern safety helmets and the advancements in design, materials and other features that help protect workers’ entire heads better.
So in this article “Safety helmet Vs Hard Hat”, we will be comparing the two to determine two (2) things:
- Why the change?
- Was the change necessary?
Safety Helmet Vs Hard Hat
Made of rigid materials like high-density polyethylene, traditional hard hats provide a basic level of protection. However, as technology and scientific understanding of head injuries have advanced, safety helmets now provide further improvements to enhance worker safety and reduce the risk of severe head trauma.
One of the differences between traditional hard hats and safety helmets lies in their construction materials. While hard hats are made of hard plastics, safety helmets incorporate a combination of materials, including lightweight composites, fiberglass, and advanced thermoplastics. These materials not only enhance impact resistance but also reduce the overall weight of the helmet, reducing neck strain and improving comfort during extended use. In addition, all safety helmets include a chin strap that, when worn properly, maintains the position of the safety helmet in the event of a slip, trip, or fall.
Moreover, safety helmets can incorporate an array of additional features designed to address specific
workplace risks. Many models include add-on face shields or goggles to protect against projectiles, dust, and
Limitations of Hard Hat
One significant drawback of the existing hard hat is its propensity to come off the head of an employee who trips, falls, or slips. This is because, in these situations, our heads have a tendency to snap back, making a fall without head protection inevitable. A worker may also lose their hard helmet if they bend forward or glance up, as they are secured in place by a suspension system rather than a chin strap.
The existing hard hat’s inability to effectively deflect or absorb a hit to the side or back of the head is another safety concern. Although most hard hats provide some protection in these places, their main function has always been to deflect things falling from above.
Also, by sitting lower on the head, safety helmets can help provide more ergonomic head protection over hard hats. Some safety helmets also feature antimicrobial and moisture-wicking padding designed to help keep workers feeling fresh and cooler throughout the workday.
Where hard hats has limited room for customization, safety helmets can be customized with specialized systems which allow users to securely attach accessories like visors, face shields, headlamps and ear protection.
Lastly, in terms of comfortability certain safety helmets have a comfortable padded suspension that includes an adjustable swinging ratchet for better comfort, also providing a five-way adjustable buckle chin strap for better security. With chin strap to secure the helmet to an individual’s head, safety helmets help eliminate the tension points and improper fits that can cause workers to incorrectly wear their PPE.
So since a better protection is required based on the limitations of hard hat, OSHA has moved to Helmet.
When To Use a Safety Helmet On The Job
According to OSHA, employers must conduct a hazard assessment at their job sites and based on the workplace hazards determine whether head protection is necessary. When head protection is needed, employers should consider using safety helmets instead of traditional hard hats so that employees are best protected against occupational head injuries.
Recommended Uses for Safety Helmets
1. Construction Sites: For construction sites, especially those with high risks of falling objects and debris,
impacts from equipment, or slips, trips, and falls, safety helmets have enhanced impact resistance and
additional features that offer superior protection compared to the components and construction of
traditional hard hats.
2. Oil and Gas Industry: In these sectors where workers face multiple hazards, including potential
exposure to chemicals and severe impacts, safety helmets with additional features can provide
3. Working from Heights: For tasks or jobs that involve working from heights, safety helmets offer
protection of the entire head and include features that prevent the safety helmet from falling off.
4. Electrical Work: For tasks involving electrical work or proximity to electrical hazards, safety helmets
with non-conductive materials (Class G and Class E) provide protection to prevent electrical shocks.
However, some traditional hard hats also offer electrical protection.
5. High-Temperature Environments: In high temperatures or where there is exposure to molten materials,
safety helmets with advanced heat resistant properties can provide additional protection to workers.
6. Specialized Work Environments: Jobs that require integrated face shields, hearing protection or
communication devices benefit from safety helmets designed with these features or the ability to add
7. Specific Regulatory Requirements: Where safety helmets are mandated by regulations or industry
standards, employers must comply with these requirements to ensure worker safety compliance.
8. Low-Risk Environments: Even in settings with no overhead hazards, safety helmets will provide
comprehensive protection, especially if the risks can become more severe.