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      • Published 9 Feb 2024
      • Last Modified 9 Feb 2024
    • 13 min

    Safety First: Exploring Hard Hats, Helmets, and Safety Hats

    Many jobs require safety helmets to protect your head and eyes from serious injuries. We clarify which protective helmet is right for which application and give useful buying tips.

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    What is a Hard Hat?

    A hard hat, also known as a safety helmet or safety hat, is a piece of personal protective equipment (PPE) designed to shield the head from potential injuries in various work environments. These durable helmets are constructed with a hard outer shell made from materials like high-density polyethylene (HDPE) or polycarbonate. The rigid shell is complemented by an interior suspension system that absorbs and disperses impact energy, ensuring that the force is not directly transferred to the wearer's head.

    Beyond its primary function of providing impact protection, modern hard hats often come equipped with additional features. Some may have visors to shield the eyes from debris, while others are designed to accommodate respirators for workers in environments with airborne contaminants.

    As we explore further, we'll unravel the intricacies of when and where hard hats are required, the materials that constitute them, and key considerations to bear in mind when choosing the right one for your specific needs. So, fasten your safety straps as we navigate through the world of hard hats.

    When are Hard Hats Required?

     When are Hard Hats Required?

    Hard hats are useful in a wide range of situations, but there are certain situations where hard hats are not just a smart idea but a legal requirement. The requirements around hard hats vary from country to country, with New Zealand’s standards being set out in Standard AS/NZS 1801:1997 or equivalent and the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSW Act). Regardless of country, any area marked with a sign showing the construction helmet icon indicates that hard hats are required. 

    Hard hats and safety helmets are required in most of the following scenarios, however, as always, it depends on the specific situation to determine if they are required or not: 

    Construction Sites: Hard hats are a non-negotiable necessity on construction sites, where the risk of falling objects, debris, and other potential head hazards is ever-present. Whether you're working with heavy machinery, building structures, or engaging in any construction-related activity, a hard hat is often your first line of defence.

    Industrial Settings: Factories and industrial facilities pose unique risks due to machinery, equipment, and materials in motion. Workers in these environments must wear hard hats to mitigate the risk of head injuries caused by impact or falling objects.

    Mining Operations: The mining industry involves challenging conditions, including the potential for falling rocks, tools, or equipment. Hard hats are mandatory for miners to minimise the risk of head injuries in this demanding field.

    Welding and Metalwork: In professions involving welding, cutting, or metalwork, the potential for sparks, molten metal, and other hazards is high. Wearing a hard hat with additional protective features, such as a visor or respiratory protection, is crucial in these scenarios.

    Forestry and Logging: In outdoor settings like forestry and logging, where workers may encounter falling branches, debris, or other hazards, hard hats play a vital role in preventing head injuries.

    Utilities and Electrical Work: Workers in utilities and electrical industries face unique risks, including the possibility of falling tools, electrical components, or other objects. Hard hats with specific electrical insulation properties are often required in these situations.

    Employers are responsible for assessing the risks in their workplaces and providing adequate head protection when needed. They are also responsible for maintaining compliance with their country’s safety standards regarding hard hats. Employees must in turn ensure that their hard hats are taken care of properly and any defects are promptly reported. When in doubt, be sure to check your country’s standards for hard hats to determine exactly when and where they are required.

    What are hard hats made of?

    Hard hats are usually fashioned by combining robust materials to ensure proper protection in the workplace. The outer shell of the hard hat, as one of the most critical components, is often crafted from high-density polyethylene (HDPE) for its lightweight yet durable properties, or from polycarbonate, known for its high impact strength. 

    Internally hard hats have a suspension system, consisting of a web of straps or harnesses that are used to absorb and disperse impact energy. They also normally feature an adjustable cradle or headband for a more comfortable fit on the wearer’s head. Some hard hats also have a chin strap to secure the helmet in situations where it may come dislodged. 

    Hard hats have a range of optional features and materials as well for more specific scenarios. Built in visors, face shields, and respirators can all be used in combination with hard hats to further improve protection.

    How long do hard hats last?

    The durability of a hard hat depends on various factors, including the materials used, the frequency and intensity of use, and the environmental conditions it faces. Typically, manufacturers provide guidelines on the expected lifespan of their hard hats, which can range from two to five years.

    It's essential to note that even if a hard hat appears undamaged, it may still need replacement based on its age. Exposure to sunlight, extreme temperatures, and harsh chemicals can degrade the materials over time, compromising the helmet's integrity. Inspecting the hard hat regularly for signs of wear, such as cracks, dents, or fading, is crucial.

    Workers should replace their hard hats if they have sustained a significant impact, as the structural integrity may be compromised even if no visible damage is apparent. Additionally, any hard hat that fails to meet safety standards or regulations should be promptly replaced.

    Employers play a vital role in ensuring that workers have access to properly maintained and up-to-date hard hats. This includes providing guidelines for inspection, replacement, and adhering to industry-specific regulations.

    Should my hard hat have a visor or brim?

    When selecting a hard hat, one thing you should consider is whether to choose one with a visor or full brim. A hard hat with a visor can be beneficial in shielding your eyes from debris, sunlight, or other airborne particles, adding an extra layer of protection for those working outdoors or in environments with intense sunlight. Opting for a hard hat with a full brim can also be a wise decision, depending on your specific work environment and tasks. A full brim provides enhanced protection against elements like rain and sunlight and offers a broader shield for your face and neck.

    Beyond weather-related benefits, a full brim can also provide additional protection against falling debris and overhead hazards. It acts as a broader barrier, reducing the likelihood of objects making direct contact with your face or shoulders.

    However, it's crucial to consider the nature of your work. In confined spaces or environments with low headroom, a full brim or visor may be impractical and could pose a safety risk. Always assess your specific work conditions and hazards before deciding on your hard hat. By choosing the right configuration for your needs, you ensure that your hard hat not only meets safety standards but also provides optimal protection tailored to your work environment.

    What type of Hard Hat do I need?

    What type of Hard Hat do I need?

    There are a wide range of different types and standards when it comes to hard hats & safety helmets. There are different standards worldwide, but the most commonly used standards are those of Europe and the United States.  However, for New Zealand and Australia all hard hats must meet the requirements set out by Standard AS/NZS 1801:1997 or equivalent. AS/NZS 1801:1997, EN 397 (the European safety helmet standard ), and ANSI Z89.1-2014 (the American safety helmet standard) all require that hard hats pass tests on the durability of the top of the helmet. 

    The European and American standards go beyond this, introducing additional standards for mountaineering and high performance industrial settings. However, each of these standards require different testing methods and the ability to meet different safety thresholds. These standards also include requirements surrounding the surface area of the helmet, the field of vision of the user when worn, and the clearance between the head and the outer shell of the helmet. Regardless of whether a helmet complies with international standards, it must comply with the standards set out by the region you are working in. As we primarily see the European standards in the New Zealand region and they offer standards beyond the New Zealand standard AS/NZS 1801:1997, we’ll cover a few of the more common types under the European standard below: 

    EN 397 Industrial Safety Helmets

    The EN 397 standard for safety helmets ensures that safety helmets meet the minimum requirements for shock absorption, penetration resistance, and fire resistance. They provide vertical shock protection to better protect against falling objects. 

    Protection against lateral shock is not a requirement for EN 397 safety helmets, so they are best suited to construction sites and the manufacturing industry where the primary danger is falling objects. 

    EN 14052 High Performance Industrial Safety Helmets

    For situations where more protection is required, helmets that meet the EN 14052:2012 standard are likely the best solution. These hard hats undergo more vigorous testing and must also protect for lateral shock as well as vertical shock. The various tests conducted on these helmets exceed the impact tests of AS/NZ 1801, EN 397 and EN 12492. 

    These helmets are larger and heavier as compared to other hard hats, but are best suited for tasks where there is an above average risk of danger. They typically also include additional features as compared to other hard hats like folding visors. 

    EN 12492 Mountaineering Safety Helmets

    While initially designed for mountaineering and climbing these helmets are used in a variety of industries. The standards for these helmets sit between EN397 and EN 14052, in that they require additional safety beyond EN397 but are not as robust as EN 14052. There are a wide variety of specialised versions of these types of helmets like chainsaw helmets, which typically include hearing protection, safety goggles, and face protection from flying debris. 

    These helmets must offer protection from impacts to the top, front, side , and rear of the helmet, to ensure that in the event of a fall that the head is protected on all sides. They come equipped with a chin strap to keep them in place and are typically lighter than other types of hard hats. 

    EN 50365 Electrical Work Safety Helmets

    EN 50365 safety helmets are specifically designed for use at low-voltage insulations. They provide a protective barrier against electrical shocks and arc flashes, helping to protect workers in the electrical and utility industries. 

    They provide electrical insulation not typically provided by other types of safety helmets. EN 50365 safety helmets must meet all the requirements set out by EN 397 as well as additional requirements pertaining specifically to electrical work. When these helmets are used in conjunction with electrically insulating protective equipment they can prevent electrical current from passing through a person and potentially causing injury.

    What do the colours of a hard hat mean?

    Hard hat colours can vary by region, industry, or company. However, there are some common colour codes followed by the construction and industrial sectors. These are not rules, and may vary from company to company or industry to industry. Below we’ll cover some of the most common meanings behind the colours of hard hats: 

    White Hard Hats: White hard hats are usually worn by engineers, supervisors, or managers. White hard hats usually signify a position of authority or expertise on a work site. 

    Yellow Hard Hats: Yellow hard hats are typically worn by general labourers and construction workers. Yellow hard hats help to enhance visibility, making the wearers more easily identifiable to help prevent accidents and assist in rescues. 

    Red Hard Hats: Red hard hats are typically reserved for firefighters and emergency response teams. These hard hats help to call out the role of emergency response teams in crisis situations. 

    Green Hard Hats: Green hard hats are usually only worn by safety inspectors or workers still in training. Generally newer works are given green hard hats to signify their lack of experience and need of additional help. 

    Orange Hard Hats: Orange hard hats are most commonly used by road crews and personnel working in high-risk areas. Orange hard hats enhance visibility in busy or potentially hazardous environments. 

    Blue Hard Hats: Blue hard hats help to distinguish those who are working around electrical equipment, meaning they are mostly worn by electrical workers. Outside of industrial settings carpenters, plumbers, and electricians also tend to commonly wear blue hard hats.

    Key Considerations when selecting a hard hat

    Here are a few key considerations to keep in mind when picking out a hard hat for your specific needs. While the fit and comfort of the hard hat is likely the highest priority there a few other things you will need to keep in mind: 

    • Fit and Comfort: Choose a hard hat that offers a secure and comfortable fit. The suspension system should provide proper support, and adjustments should be easy to make for a customised fit.
    • Type and Class: Select the type and class of safety helmet based on the specific hazards present in your work environment. Consider whether additional features such as a visor or respirator compatibility are necessary.
    • Durability and Material: Evaluate the durability of the hard hat materials, considering the conditions of your workplace. Some environments may require helmets with higher resistance to impact or extreme temperatures.
    • Regulatory Compliance: Ensure that the hard hats you purchase comply with relevant safety standards and regulations in your industry and region.

    Where to buy hard hats?

    If you are looking for high-quality hard hats in New Zealand, there’s no better place than RS. RS is a reliable supplier of personal protective equipment (PPE) including everything from hard hats to safety goggles. 

    RS carries a wide range of protective equipment in compliance with different international standards ensuring you step into your workday confident that your gear can provide the safety you need..

    Remember to keep in mind our key considerations for selecting a hard hat to choose one that fits well, complies with your required standards, and is made of high quality materials. With all this in mind you’ll be sure to find the right hard hat for the job.

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