EHSO Guide to Assessing the Need
for Personal Protective Equipment:
A Guide for Small Business Employers

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Head Protection

When do my employees need head protection?

You must provide head protection for your employees if: bulletObjects might fall from above and strike them on the head;


bulletThey might bump their heads against fixed objects, such as exposed pipes or beams; or


bulletThey work near exposed electrical conductors.

What should I look for in head protection?

In general, protective helmets, or hard hats, should

  bulletResist penetration by objects,


bulletAbsorb the shock of a blow,


bulletBe water resistant and slow burning, and


bulletCome with instructions explaining proper adjustment and replacement of the suspension and headband.

Hard hats require a hard outer shell and a shock-absorbing lining. The lining should incorporate a head band and straps that suspend the shell from 1 to 1 1/4 inches (2.54 cm to 3.18 cm) away from the user's head. This design provides shock absorption during impact and ventilation during wear.

As with devices designed to protect eyes, the design, construction, testing, and use of protective helmets must meet standards established by ANSI. Protective helmets purchased after July 5, 1994, must comply with ANSI Z89.1-1986,(7) whereas, those purchased before this date must meet the ANSI Z89.1-1969 standard.

What types of head protection are available?

Hard hats are divided into three industrial classes:

  bulletClass A. These helmets are for general service. They provide good impact protection but limited voltage protection. They are used mainly in mining, building construction, shipbuilding, lumbering, and manufacturing.


bulletClass B. Choose Class B helmets if your employees are engaged in electrical work. They protect against falling objects and high-voltage shock and burns.


bulletClass C. Designed for comfort, these light-weight helmets offer limited protection. They protect workers from bumping against fixed objects but do not protect against falling objects or electric shock.

Look at the inside of any protective helmet you are considering for your employees, and you should see a label showing the manufacturer's name, the ANSI standard it meets, and its class. Figure 2 shows the basic design of hard hats.

[Figure 2 - Hard Hat]

[Text - The Sky is Falling]

How do I choose the correct protective helmets from among the different types?

Each kind of protective helmet is designed to protect against specific hazards. By completing the hazard assessment outlined above, you will identify the specific workplace hazards that pose a threat to your employee's head.

I have purchased new hard hats that meet the ANSI requirements. Have I fulfilled my responsibility to protect my employees' heads?

No. Issuing appropriate head protection to employees is a major first step, but you must make sure that the hard hats continue to provide sufficient protection to your employees. Do this by training your employees in the proper use and maintenance of hard hats including daily inspection of them. If your employees identify any of the following defects, remove the hard hats from service:

  bulletThe suspension system shows signs of deterioration such as:

- Cracking,

- Tearing, or

- Fraying.


bulletThe suspension system no longer holds the shell from 1 inch to 1 1/4 inches (2.54cm - 3.18cm) away from the employee's head.


bulletThe brim or shell is cracked, perforated, or deformed.


bulletThe brim or shell shows signs of exposure to heat, chemicals, ultraviolet light, or other radiation. Such signs include:

- Loss of surface gloss,

-Chalking, or

- Flaking (a sign of advanced deterioration).

Could employees wearing hard hats and working at elevations create a potential hazard for the employees working below?

To protect employees working below, you must provide chin straps for the protective helmets worn by employees working at higher elevations, whether in an aerial lift or at the edge of a pit. The chin straps should be designed to prevent the hard hats from being bumped off the employees' heads.

Can I require employees to cut their hair if it is long enough to get tangled in machinery?

Long hair (longer than four inches) can be drawn into machine parts such as chains, belts, rotating devices, suction devices, and blowers. Hair may even be drawn into machines otherwise guarded with mesh. Although you need not require your employees to cut their hair, you must require them to cover and protect their hair with bandanas, hair nets, turbans, soft caps, or the like. These items, however, must not themselves present a hazard.

Once I have selected helmets to protect my employees' heads, how do I make sure they use them properly?

Train your employees to use the hard hats. Checklist D will help you instruct your employees to use and care for the head protection you provide.

How do I make sure that the hard hats I provide will be kept in good condition?

You must train your employees to maintain and care for the head protection. Your training communicates the importance of wearing head protection and taking proper care of it. Important information you will want to consider when training employees on how to care for their hard hats includes the following: bulletPaints, paint thinners, and some cleaning agents can weaken the shell of the hard hat and may eliminate electrical resistance. Consult the helmet manufacturer for information on the effects of paint and cleaning materials on their hard hats. Keep in mind that paint and stickers can also hide signs of deterioration in the hard hat shell. Limit their use.


bulletUltraviolet light and extreme heat, such as that generated by sunlight, can reduce the strength of the hard hats. Therefore, employees should not store or transport hard hats on the rear-window shelves of automobiles or otherwise in direct sunlight.

Also, instruct employees to clean the protective helmets periodically by: bulletImmersing for one minute in hot (approximately 140o F, or 60o C) water and detergent,


bulletScrubbing, and


bulletRinsing in clear hot water.

[Checklist D - Use and Care of Head Protection]


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This page was updated on 30-Mar-2016