The importance of head protection – Hard hats

by Argyro Christoforaki – Sales Advisor | STOP AEBE

Basic information

As every part of the human body is vulnerable to injury or damage, head is no exception. Considering that head is the most important part of the body that facilitates the ability to think, see, smell, hear, talk, feel, it makes a lot of sense for people to protect it from injuries. Minor head injuries usually lead to inability to work for a few days whereas severe head injuries can lead in extreme cases to permanent inability to work or even death.

So head protection is particularly important and required across every aspect of construction since construction sites always involve increased risk of injury as a result of falls, falling objects, collapsing structures, protruding extensions and of course working in areas of restricted headspace. The same need also applies to every industry / marine work that involves many of the above mentioned risks.

Hard hats do not substitute the need for best work practices eliminating as many risks as possible in the design of a health and safety plan in a worksite, but it is a fact that countless severe head injuries and deaths have doubtless been prevented by their use.

There are a few European norms covering the certification of the hard hats but the basic one is EN397:2012+A1:2012. Helmets complying with this norm are tested to withstand impact from pointed lead weights that are dropped onto the top of the hat. To help protect the skull from impact, beneath the hard outer shell of the helmet a skull cradle is suspended that should adjust to fit firmly to different head shapes and sizes. Between the helmet and the cradle there is a 12mm air gap. The rule is that the falling object should not penetrate the outer shell, and any dent the falling object makes should not exceed the gap between the outer shell and the skull cradle. This is a requirement that all safety helmets must fulfil.

Therefore, the most important aim of helmet is to soften any blow to the head as well as resist and deflect the blow and then distribute the effects over a large area of the head. The suspension of the hat usually acts as a shock absorber. Even in the case that the hat shatters or has dent, it still manages to take out some of the force from the blow and off the head of the wearer.

Variations of the standard hat are available with the options of:
• a full peak for shielding the eyes
• a reduced peak when the worker is required to look up (for instance when climbing ladders)
• a rain gutter for protection against bad weather
• ventilation holes to help keep the wearer cool in hot weather
• replaceable sweat bands on the inside of the helmet
• a chinstrap for extra security and fit when the wearer is climbing or working at height. The chinstrap is especially important in some areas as it will keep the helmet on the head in case of a fall.

Of course, various compatible accessories can be added to improve protection in different climates or for specific tasks. For example, noise-reducing earmuffs or protective visors can be added to some models, and balaclavas can protect workers in extreme weather conditions.

Dos and Don’ts
• check hard hats regularly for cracks, dents or other damage
• replace hats if damaged or after their shelf-life expires
• keep hard hats clean using warm, soapy water, not solvents or abrasives
• store them at conditions indicated by the manufacturer
• never store materials in your hard hat
• never store hard hats where they may be exposed to direct sunlight as ultraviolet rays can damage the plastic outer shell
• never put any stickers to the hard hat or write on it as some materials may be weakened by certain chemicals and adhesives
As a conclusion, never underestimate the importance of head protection.

As an employer, you are responsible for providing appropriate protective helmets and accessories for your workforce and ensuring that your employees follow best practice guidelines.

As an employee, you have a duty to yourself and your work colleagues to follow best practice and use the protective helmets and accessories to ensure the safety of everyone involved.