Yes, Your Hard Hat has an Expiration Date
What do a carton of milk, bread, paint, and your hardhat all have in common? Expiration dates.
Your hard hat is a very important part of your personal protective equipment. They’re the only piece of equipment made to protect you from blows to the head, and shouldn’t just be used in hazardous workplaces with lots of imminent danger—But any job that presents a risk for head injury.
Which injuries are you at risk for when you don’t wear your helmet? Some of the possible injuries that might not cross your mind right away include:
- Bruises, bumps & cuts that cause physical impact
- Heatstroke, caused by overexposure UV rays
- Burns: Nobody wants their hair to catch fire. Your head can get burnt when in contact with molten metal, cutting oxyacetylene, manufacturing metal, machining, welding, or any type of work involving fire or high-heat.
- Burns, electric shock and electrocution caused by active conductors or electrical loads.
HARD HATS: DO’S AND DON’TS
What are the do’s and don’ts of hard hats?
- Wear the right type of hard hat for the type of work being done.
- Be mindful of potential electrical issues onsite, and choose your headwear accordingly.
- If possible, choose a hard hat with a smooth shell as objects will deflect, or slide off them easily—Hard hats with ridges can actually cause your headwear to be knocked over more easily.
- Select a thick shell (at least 2mm), especially if performing heavy work.
- Use an adjustable chinstrap, especially if there is a risk of your hard hat falling.
- Replace your hard hat when signs of scratches, gouges or wear emerge, and if the hard hat has been struck—Even if no signs of wear appear.
- Wear just any hardhat—They are not created equal.
- Modify your hard hat (ex. drilling holes). Try to purchase hard hats that have available attachments or accessories for the type of work to be done.
- Paint the hard hat shell—Paint solvents can make plastic headwear brittle & more likely to crack, and it can even hide cracks that might have developed. Check manufacturer recommendations, which will tell you if and which parts of the helmet you may be able to paint.
- Use metal labels on G or E class headwear – Metal labels can negatively impact the voltage protection these hard hats provide (learn more about hard hat classes below).
ARE THERE DIFFERENT TYPES OF HARD HATS?
The short answer? Yes. The long answer? Read on…
In Canada, most personal protective equipment (PPE) follows the standards (standard Z94.1, to be exact) set by the CSA (The Canadian Standards Association)—This includes hard hats. There are two types, and three classes for hard hats.
Two hard hat types are:
- Type 1: Reduces the impact of dropped objects & piercing to head.
- Type 2: Protects from impact, penetration at the crown (top) and laterally (sides and back).
The CSA identifies three different types of hard hats, which are based on their level of protection and the type of work each is best suited for. These three categories are:
- G—General usage: Recommended for nearly every workplace. G-class hard hats protect against impacts and blows, resist voltages up to 2,200 volts.
- E—Electrical trades: Designed to resist impact, penetration, and protection against electric shock from high-voltage electrical conductors. In experiments, E-class hard hats resisted up to 20,000 volts from a ground connection. E-class helmets contain no metal and are typically made of high-density polyethylene and polycarbonate, with no holes, fasteners or metal. The E-class helmets’ suspension is made of vinyl, leather and/or nylon and resists electrical shocks. These are suitable for people who work in: transportation (railways, specifically), mining, forestry, manufacturing, construction & industrial trades. An E-class hard hat should be worn anytime work is done near an area that could expose you to active conductors or high-voltage electrical loads.
- C—Conducting headwear: Only C-class hard hats are ever made with aluminum, and they have no electrical rating. C-class hard hats aren’t meant to protect from electrical conductors, and may even have ventilation to provide extra comfort and breath-ability.
WHY DO HARD HATS EXPIRE?
The reason hard hats expire is pretty simple—They become less effective over time.
Since hard hat manufactures must meet safety standards, they are created to be extremely durable—However, they do not last forever. Depending on your work environment, your hard hat might need to be replaced at different rates.
Things that can affect how long your hard hat will last include:
- Sunlight exposure
- Temperature extremes
- Chemical exposure
- Sweat, liquids, and other substances coming in contact with your hard hat
- Daily vs. occasional use
The best way to determine if your hard had requires replacement is through daily inspections. These should be performed before each use.
Things to look for in daily inspections:
- Cracks, dents or cuts in the hat’s shell
- Cracks or tears in the hat’s suspension
- Cut or frayed suspension straps
- Chalky, dull or crazing pattern on the outer shell – This can be a sign of damage sustained by heat, sunlight or chemical exposer.
Remember, the suspension of your hard hat is actually just as important as the outside (known as the shell). Hard hats have an inner layer that provides shock absorption—Without this, your hard hat can actually do more to damage your head than save it.
If your hard hat is showing signs of any of these things, it should be replaced and disposed of, to avoid further use.
WHEN DO HARD HATS EXPIRE?
Most hard hats will include manufacturer’s replacement recommendations. For example, 3M hard hats come with a suggestion to replace the hat’s suspension after 12 months of use and the shell every two to five years of use.
Be sure to take note of your hard hat’s replacement recommendations and ensure you are keeping on top of replacing the necessary parts in a timely manner. However, no matter how long in the future the replacement recommendation date is, you must continue to perform inspections before each use, as these recommendations should ONLY be followed if your hard hat shows no sign of expiry before then.
It is very important to remember that if your hard hat sustains an impact of any kind, dispose of it immediately, even if there is no visible damage. Impacts can cause the materials to become weakened, and even if there’s no visible damage, it may no longer be able to provide the same level of protection.