How to Wear a Hard Hat Safely: Dos and Don’ts

Clearing up confusion about how to fit headgear properly

Whether you feel too sweaty, cold, or simply uncomfortable, putting an extra garment between your hard hat and your head seems like an easy fix. But do regulations guiding how to wear a hard hat allow this practice?

And most importantly, is it safe?

While these and other questions seem simple, confusion often swirls around whether certain methods of wearing hard hats are safe and acceptable. In this blog, we clarify:

  • OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and ANSI (American National Standards Institute) rules
  • Best practices for what to wear under a hard hat
  • Helpful tips for wearing hard hats correctly, safely, and comfortably

Does OSHA regulate what to wear under a hard hat?

The safety benefits of wearing hard hats are clear, protecting your head from various impacts, burns, and (potentially) shocks. Manufacturers must identify if a hard hat is Type I, designed to cushion blows to the top of the head, or Type II, mitigating the impact of top and lateral collisions. They also must indicate the hard hat's class; its ability to stop or conduct electricity.

Construction workers face the highest occupational risk of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), and line workers face electrical hazards, for example, so it’s vital to don the hard hat type and class that offers the greatest protection for a specific line of work.

OSHA sets the rules for head protection in Part 1926.100 of Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations (29 CFR aka CFR Title 29), aiming to create a work environment safer from known dangers or hazards. Specific steps job sites must follow to achieve compliance are detailed in ANSI/ISEA Z89.1-2014, which covers hard hat classifications and performance and testing requirements.

Currently, ANSI has no specific requirements or tests to examine if garments worn inside a hard hat impact its performance. However, ANSI warns that “alterations, attachments, or additions of accessories may affect the performance of the helmet” (1.3).

And in Section 5, ANSI states: “Accessories or replacement components, when installed, shall not cause the helmet to fail the requirements of this standard. The entity claiming that an accessory or replacement component, when installed, does not cause the helmet to fail the requirements of this standard is responsible for providing justification upon request.”

An OSHA standard interpretation clarifies things: “If the use of a garment were to detract from the hard hat's protective properties, it may no longer meet the specification requirements in these ANSI standards. If that were the case, its use would violate §1926.100.”

So, how does all that technical jargon translate into what to wear under a hard hat?

Certain garments can meet OSHA and ANSI safety standards — IF the manufacturer specifies they are OK and the fit and safety of your hard hat aren’t compromised.

Let’s dig into what that means.

Construction workers with hard hats on a hot day

Struggling with a hot work environment? It’s OK to wear a cooling bandana that meets OSHA and ANSI safety standards under your hard hat.

Can you wear a hat under a hard hat?

Working outside in the summer months can be uncomfortably hot. Winter temperatures can also demand an extra layer to protect your head from the cold.

And sometimes, the hard surface of a hard hat or a sharper edge can just feel plain uncomfortable.

But can you wear a hat under a hard hat to address these issues? In many respects, ANSI defers to manufacturers to set requirements based on specific designs and safety testing results. And prominent hard hat manufacturer Honeywell states that the answer boils down to this:

For your hard hat’s protection system to work properly, ANSI requires an engineered clearance between your head and the shell of about 1 to 1 ¼ inches (2.54 cm to 3.18 cm).

Manufacturers also provide instructions for a proper fit that prevents your hard hat from sliding out of place — or worse, falling off — during an impact. The suspension inside a helmet may have sliding bands, tab locks, ratchets, or pin locks in the back for fine-tuning its fit or multiple adjustment points at the front, sides, and back of the helmet.

The safety sweet spot: snug but not too tight to cause discomfort or irritation.

Bulky items like baseball caps impact a helmet’s clearance and fit — thus, interfering with the ability of the suspension and shell to work together to reduce the force of an impact.

The bill of a baseball cap is another issue, stopping safety helmets from sitting level on your head in the right work position. (Manufacturer-approved visors that attach to a hard hat instead of sitting underneath it are a better option for minimizing the glare and heat of the sun.)

Baseball caps

Manufacturers agree that wearing a baseball cap under a hard hat isn’t safe.

Many baseball caps also have metal buttons at the top that create a significant safety hazard. Garments with metal parts are never permitted under a hard hat. Accessories with metal components can cause injury if a falling object drives the metal into your head. Metal is also highly conductive to electricity, diminishing a helmet’s ability to protect from electrical shock.

Most hard hat manufacturers, including Bullard, MSA V-Gard, and Honeywell brands, strongly advise against wearing baseball caps under hard hats.

That said, manufacturers generally approve of tighter-fitting garments like cooling bandanas, skull caps, winter hard hat liners, additional sweatbands, or welder’s caps that do not contain metal parts and can be worn smoothly on top of the head.

Rather than improvising, however, OSHA’s standard interpretation recommends that employers maximize safety by only allowing manufacturer-approved accessories under hard hats. The reason: OSHA asserts that it’s too difficult for employers to determine whether other garments violate safety regulations.

Following manufacturer instructions for properly using these items is also key, avoiding pressure points that can cause injury during an impact. For instance, bunched or folded material can prevent you from achieving a snug and comfortable hard hat fit.

Another safety concern is placing other personal items beyond garments between the hard hat shell and suspension. While storing small things like a billfold or cell phone under a hard hat might seem tempting, you'll regret it if an impact occurs.

Wearing a hoodie under a hard hat

Tucking a bulky hoodie under your hard hat could prevent achieving the necessary clearance and fit that ensure proper head protection.

Can you wear a beanie under a hard hat?

OSHA allows users and organizations to follow more recent ANSI standards if they are equally protective—the latest version is ANSI/ISEA Z89.1-2014 with 2019 revisions. But OSHA also references previous ANSI standards that deliver specific recommendations and a requirement on winter liners:

For example, in its “Accessories” Section 5, ANSI Z89.1-1969 states: “Winter liners should be made of fabric, plastic, or other suitable material. Colored materials shall be fast-dyed. The outer surface may be water resistant” (5.4.2).

And in its “Accessories” Section 5.5, ANSI Z89.2-1971 repeats this guidance, adding: “There shall be no metal parts in winter liners for use with Class B helmets” (5.5.2).

Put simply, ANSI specifies the use of cold weather hard hat liners that are considered “accessories” — specifically designed for compatibility with the protective properties of your helmet.

Traditional winter beanies are bulky, lifting a hard hat and compromising its stability. Tucking a hoodie under a hard hat not only impacts its fit but can also reduce your field of vision, increasing the risk of accidents caused by moving machinery or trip hazards.

Winter hard hat liners, balaclavas, and other thin insulating layers, ideally explicitly made for your PPE, won’t compromise its safety features, keeping you protected against harsh weather and head injuries.

Always inspect winter hard hat liners — and any garment you want to wear — to ensure they don’t negatively affect your hard hat's proper fit or function.

Can I wear a hard hat backward?

Some people wear hard hats backward to make it easier to maneuver in tight quarters, while others say they see better without the brim.

But keep this in mind: Only hard hats that bear the reverse donning symbol can be worn safely with the bill to the rear:

Hard hat reverse-wear symbol

Wearing the wrong hard hat backward negates its safety protections, stopping the suspension system from working as designed by changing the impact area and fit.

To qualify for reverse wear, hard hats must meet stringent ANSI protection standards:

  • Type I safety helmets must pass a force transmission test in the reverse position.
  • Type II safety helmets must pass force transmission, impact attenuation, and off-center penetration tests in the reverse position.

So, how do you check if it’s safe to wear a hard hat backward?

Look for the reverse donning symbol above at the top of the helmet’s sequence of optional performance features, which also may include marks indicating approval for LT (lower temperature), HV (high visibility), and HT (higher temperature) ratings. The sequence won’t be hard to spot: ANSI requires manufacturers to make these marks large enough to be easily legible on your hat.

If the reverse orientation performance symbol is missing, the hard hat is only approved to wear with the brim in the same direction you are facing.

Here’s another important safety tip: Even if your hat bears the mark, always follow your manufacturer's instructions for front or backward wear.

Honeywell notes that standard suspensions must be removed, reversed, and reinstalled to maintain safety in the backward position. But some manufacturers offer hard hats with swing suspensions that can be converted more easily.

More tips on how to wear a hard hat correctly and comfortably

Of course, wearing a hard hat correctly involves more than understanding the direction it should face or what’s OK to put under it. Here are additional tips for maximizing the safety and comfort of your hard hat:

  • Don’t mix and match shells and suspensions from different manufacturers. A hard hat’s shell and suspension system are tested together to meet rigorous ANSI standards. Shells may be approved for use with several suspensions from the same manufacturer. But even if they seem to fit, components from different manufacturers are not interchangeable because they aren’t tested to ensure safety compliance.
  • If your hard hat feels like it could fall off, you’re wearing it wrong. For instance, never perch a safety helmet on the back of your head.
  • How to make hard hats sit lower on your head. Hard hats with a lower center of gravity are less likely to tip off, get knocked off, or feel unbalanced. But while most hard hat suspensions can be adjusted vertically, always maintain the required air space of 1-1 ¼ inches between your head and the shell that allows the safety system to work. Generally, aim for a suspension that’s tight enough so your helmet stays on when you bend over but doesn’t leave a mark on your forehead.
  • Consider chin straps. If your job requires work at heights or around deep excavations, manufacturer-approved chin straps can heighten safety by helping your hard hat stay in place during a fall.
  • Safety shouldn’t compromise comfort! If you experience skin abrasions or irritation, your hard hat is probably too tight. The wrong fit prevents cool air from circulating to the scalp, triggering uncomfortable sweat buildup. Hard hats that are too hot or tight may also risk permanent hair loss. Try adjusting the suspension to the proper fit and switch sizes if that doesn’t work.
  • Inspect your hard hat Look for dents, holes, cracks, and a chalky appearance to the shell that can indicate sun damage. Examine the suspension as well. If the hard hat appears worn out or damaged, it’s time for a replacement.
  • Replace your hard hat after an impact. Even if a hit seems minor, it can affect the shell and suspension’s integrity. Always err on the side of safety.

This video demonstrates proper hard hat assembly, fit, and wear. It also shows what can happen if you get it wrong:

How to wear a hard hat best practices can maximize comfort and minimize safety risks

Putting a hard hat on your head means little if you don’t wear it properly. But while knowing how to wear a hard hat may seem basic, best practices aren’t always obvious.

Following the above simple hard hat dos and don’ts can help maximize comfort and minimize safety risks on your job site.

Want to learn more about proper hard hat use? Check out our Hard Hats Veterans blog, where we cover care, maintenance, and inspection essentials, hard hat expiration dates, the lowdown on stickers and paint, and more.