A hard hat can be all that stands between a construction worker and serious head injury or death. But like all personal protective equipment (PPE), proper inspection, care, and maintenance are vital to maximizing safety when it's needed most.
Even the best-made hard hats will eventually wear out and incur damage from sun exposure, chemicals, or impacts that reduce their protective properties. In this blog, we explain the best and realistic practices for hard hat inspections that make sure your headgear is up to the job.
We’ll also help you extend the useful life of your equipment by going over the essential dos and don’ts of hard hat care and maintenance.
In Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations (29 CFR aka CFR Title 29), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) establishes head protection regulations designed to create a safer work environment. To achieve compliance, OSHA mandates that the construction industry follow specific guidelines set forth by the American National Standards Institute in its helmet safety standard, ANSI Z89.1.
To learn more about the head protection rules the construction industry must follow—and how to choose the best hard hat for your workplace—read our blog, “The ANSI Z89.1 Standard for Hard Hats & Construction Helmets: A Guide.”
Hard hats consist of three parts that require periodic inspection and maintenance:
Construction workers can choose hard hats in full-brim (left) or cap (right) styles. Image sources: US Department of Agriculture Forest Service
Make sure your suspension system and shell are compatible to ensure hard hat safety. Image source: US Department of Agriculture Forest Service
Choosing equipment that fits properly is key to hard hat safety. Essentially, that means your hard hat should be tight enough to stay on your head without slipping, binding, or irritating your skin. The suspension system should also allow adequate space between your head and the hard hat’s shell for proper ventilation and distribution of impacts. Suspension and helmet sizes must match.
In Appendix A2, ANSI Z89.1-2014 instructs workers to follow each manufacturer’s instructions for proper fitting procedures. ANSI Z89.1 also delivers this hard hat safety reminder:
A1. Instructions and Warnings. All instructions, warnings, precautions and limitations given by the manufacturer should always be transmitted to the wearer and care should be taken to see that such precautions and limitations are strictly observed. Helmets whose markings (as defined in Section 6.2 of this standard) are missing or obliterated should not be used.
Remember this important safety tip as well: While suspension systems can be purchased separately, mixing suspensions and shells from different manufacturers could compromise hard hat safety.
Manufacturers test shells and suspensions as a unit to meet ANSI standards. Using a suspension that is not intended for use with a particular shell or is made by a different manufacturer voids safety certifications and could put wearers at greater risk.
Hard hats with worn, damaged, or defective parts should be removed from service immediately.
ANSI Z89.1-2014 (A5) instructs workers to inspect all components and accessories before every use for signs of wear or damage. Some manufacturers even recommend multiple inspections throughout the day to maximize hard hat safety since damage can occur at any time.
While you should always follow your manufacturer’s specific guidelines, this hard hat inspection checklist can help ensure the structural integrity of your head protection:
Before you put your hard hat on each day:
Step 1: Visually inspect the shell for:
Step 2: Visually inspect the suspension system for:
Step 3: Perform an overall visual check for:
Step 4: Check for shell degradation with a simple field test:
ANSI Z89.1 (A5) instructs that any hard hat with worn, damaged, or defective parts must be immediately removed from service. The offending shell and/or suspension must be immediately replaced.
ANSI (A6) cautions users to pay special care to inspections of hard hats exposed to unusual conditions like temperature extremes or chemical exposures.
ANSI (A6) further states that all components of any hard hat that sustain an impact should be immediately replaced. Even if the hardhat looks OK, it could have hairline cracks or weakened materials—substantially impacting its ability to keep you safe.
This Iowa Department of Transportation video demonstrates a proper hard hat inspection:
Hard hats designed to meet stringent ANSI and OSHA standards may be the most robust PPE that construction workers wear, but mistreatment can significantly reduce their effectiveness. ANSI Z89.1-2014 (A7) lists several precautions for users to observe, warning: “Because helmets can be damaged, they should not be abused.”
Following these dos and don’ts of proper hard hat care and maintenance compiled from ANSI and manufacturer guidelines can help you enjoy your head protection’s entire recommended life:
Hard hats should be cleaned regularly—mild soap and warm water are all that’s needed to prolong their useful life.
Mistreating hard hats can significantly reduce their protective capabilities.
While OSHA and ANSI rules don’t prohibit workers from personalizing their hard hats with stickers, too much decoration makes it harder to spot damage. Image source: eBay
Even the best care, maintenance, and craftsmanship won’t allow a hard hat to last forever. Webbing in the suspension tends to succumb to wear and tear first, broken down by moving parts and exposure to dirt and sweat.
Hard hats stored in direct sunlight or routinely exposed to extreme temperatures or chemicals may require replacement more often. Frequent use impacts longevity as well.
While daily inspections remain the best way to determine when replacement of a hard hat shell, suspension system, or entire unit is necessary, manufacturers also offer guidelines for useful life.
But assuming events don’t warrant earlier replacement, construction workers can generally follow this rule: acquire new hard hat shells every two to five years and new suspension systems every 12 months.
Always check with your equipment manufacturer to address specific questions or concerns. But following these simple steps for hard hat care, maintenance, and inspection can optimize your headgear’s ability to keep you safe on the job.
Want to learn more about construction helmet safety? Check out more resources from Hard Head Veterans, where we: