To an outsider, a hard hat and safety glasses may be nothing more than trademark symbols of those who work in construction. But to a worker, these items — as well as other personal protective equipment (PPE) — can provide security in an environment where potentially dangerous hazards, such as flying debris, falling objects and noisy equipment, are all part of a day's work.
"Hard hats and safety glasses are considered standard pieces of equipment for a construction worker," says Paul Satti, technical director for the Construction Safety Council. "They're accepted as being part of the job."
When it comes to protecting the head and face, there are a number of PPE items to consider. Hard hats and safety glasses are some of the most obvious. But employers should also consider hearing protection and face shields when appropriate.
Implement a PPE policy
To determine when and what PPE is needed, Satti suggests looking to job descriptions. "If properly written, they will identify your PPE needs," he says. "For example, if a worker is supposed to use a [circular] saw, you have identified an electric tool that might require eye and hearing protection. Based on that description, it's understood that the operator must be willing to wear PPE."
Satti also suggests drawing upon manufacturer recommendations, as well as accepted work practices established by the industry and its associations. Then incorporate information from your own hazard analysis based on personal incidents. "Go back and look at your past injuries and accidents," he advises. "If you determine that a high eye injury rate has been attributed to a particular task or tool, implement an eye safety program for that particular job."
It's important to use common sense when establishing a PPE policy. "OSHA won't tell you that your workers have to wear hard hats," Satti points out. "What it does tell you is that you should wear head protection if exposed to a hazard of getting hit in the head."
That may mean there are times when a worker will don some form of PPE when and where there is no perceived risk of danger. "But if you want to set a strong policy statement as to when, how and where to use PPE such as a hard hat, etc., you should have your workers wear them 100% of the time, because you can't follow them around and tell them when it's appropriate," Satti says. "They should wear PPE because it's policy."
Wearing a hard hat offers a two-fold approach to protection, notes Jeanette Gaunce at Bullard. The shell protects from debris and objects that fall directly on the head, while the inner suspension — webbing, bands, etc. — absorbs the impact to protect the neck and spine.
Hard hats are categorized as Type I or Type II, with Type I most commonly used by contractors, Gaunce explains. A Type I hard hat offers top impact protection, while a Type II hat incorporates a foam liner that offers additional lateral (front, back and side) impact protection. With either type, look for one that meets current ANSI standards (Z89.1-2003 revision). That information will be printed on the label.
Even if a hat meets ANSI standards, other factors can hinder its effectiveness. "As manufacturers, we do a lot of design and testing to provide a helmet (hard hat) that keeps you safe," Gaunce says. "But sometimes, with or without knowing it, you can compromise the performance of the product."
Following are some guidelines for obtaining optimum performance from your hard hats:
- Personalization/decoration — Using a few stickers to personalize a hard hat would not be expected to negatively affect performance. However, too many stickers can prevent the user from properly inspecting the hard hat prior to use. If you wish to add an identifying logo, some manufacturers, such as Bullard, can pad print company logos and safety slogans, which are permanent and will not peel, crack or fade like a decal or sticker. Reflective striping can also be applied to increase worker visibility and allow for worker differentiation.
- Ventilation — Drilling holes to enhance ventilation sacrifices the integrity of the hard hat, Gaunce cautions. If ventilation is desired, choose a helmet specially designed for extra air flow. Be aware that these helmets are not approved for all uses.
- Usage — Some models of Type I hats can be worn backwards as long as the suspension is also reversed. Before wearing a hard hat in the reverse position, consult the hard hat manufacturer for recommendations.