Head Protection

Head injuries are usually caused by the impact and penetration of falling or flying objects, or by bumping against a fixed object. Injuries also occur when workers’ unprotected heads come in contact with exposed electrical conductors. Wearing a protective helmet lessens the chance of a serious head injury when objects such as small tools, pieces of wood, stones, or sparks from overhead work come in contact with the head.
Preventing head injuries is an important factor in every safety program. A survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of accidents and injuries noted that most workers who suffered impact injuries to the head were not wearing head protection. The majority of those workers were injured while performing their normal jobs at their regular worksites.
The BLS survey showed that most employers of people injured did not require workers to wear head protection. Of those wearing hard hats, all but five percent indicated that they were required by their employers to wear them. It was found that the vast majority who wore them all or most of the time at work felt that hard hats were practical in their jobs.
Identification, then elimination or control of a hazard that could lead to an accident, is the first step to take. However, many accidents that cause head injuries are difficult to anticipate and control. Where hazardous situations exist, the employer must provide head protection to eliminate injury. The best practice to follow is, wherever the potential for dangerous conditions exists, wear head protection.

Types of head protection

Head injuries are caused by falling or flying objects, or by bumping the head against a fixed object. Head protection, in the form of a protective helmet, must do two things — resist penetration and absorb the shock of a blow. This is achieved by making the helmet’s shell of a material hard enough to resist the blow, and by using a shock-absorbing lining made up of a headband and crown straps to keep the shell away from the wearer’s skull. The outer shell will:
  • Absorb the force of impact,
  • Deflect falling or flying items,
  • Prevent sharp objects from penetrating the skull, and
  • Protect the front, sides, and back of the head.
The shock-absorbing lining forms a suspension system consisting of a headband and crown straps that hold the suspension system to the shell. This system spreads the force of impact over a wider area of the head.
All materials that come in contact with the wearer’s head must be non-irritating to normal skin. Observe all manufacturer’s instructions regarding precautions and limitations of the helmets you choose.

Helmet markings

While OSHA’s head protection standard does not spell out the criteria that protective helmets must meet to provide maximum protection, it does require that helmets conform to the performance criteria of the American National Standard, ANSI Z89.1.
This industry consensus standard describes the types and classes, materials, performance requirements, and tests that manufacturers have to meet to ensure that their helmets provide adequate protection. Each helmet must be marked with the following information:
  • Name and/or identification mark of the manufacturer;
  • Date of manufacture;
  • ANSI designation;
  • Type and class designation; and
  • Appropriate headband size range.
If any of this information is missing or obliterated, the helmet should not be worn.
All protective helmets purchased after July 5, 1994 must comply with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z89.1-1986 American National Standard for Personnel Protection — Protective Headwear for Industrial Workers-Requirements. Equipment purchased prior to the July date must comply with the ANSI Z89.1-1969 American National Standard Safety Requirements for Industrial Head Protection and ANSI Z89.2-1971 Requirements for Industrial Protective Helmets for Electrical Workers.
These industry standards should be consulted for details. Later editions of the standards are available and acceptable for use.

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