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Occupational Head Protection

Published: 03rd Jun 2013 in OSA Magazine

Better safe than sorry is the bottom line for the top priority of protecting your head, as Mark Da Silva explains.

Protective helmets are a form of personal protective equipment (PPE) and should be worn in work places where there is a potential risk of head injury. There are various types of hard hats that may reduce the impact from falling objects, or protect against electrical shock.

Have you ever heard the phrase ‘Use your head’? Well without it we wouldn’t survive. When we consider head safety, we think ‘Safety helmets protect against falling objects, bumps and electrical hazards’, but other factors to consider are hats which are provided for sun and rain protection (University of Western Australia, 2012).

The use of head protection as a risk control measure may cover the requirement to protect employees from exposure to potential hazards.

Head protection can be explored further to include key factors such as falling objects, exposure to the elements such as the sun, or situations where fire is the hazard source, in addition to further potential emergency situations.

Anticipate trouble

The best way to adapt an occupational head protection standard/policy is to adopt and establish a risk assessment methodology. There are several elements to consider, such as consulting with the designated workgroup to either eliminate or control the potential hazard. This should be given the first priority aligned to the hierarchy of risk control.

Other key elements included in occupational head protection are predominantly aligned with the nature and location of the work. This may include the scope of work where persons are required to work at heights. Another factor may be due to the site location such as the geographical topography – a hillside, or working in or near water, for example.

When completing site observations, external factors such as the priority of workers may exist, with work scheduling meaning the civil work needs to be completed before the electricians arrive, but the crane needs to assist the civil workers with pipework. Other influences may take precedence such as other trades/subcontractors trying to get their work completed in a timely manner, or they can just be in the way of other high risk construction activity and it’s not necessary for them to be on site at that point in time. Segregation of workers may also be paramount to reduce potential hazards at the work site.

Falling objects

As mentioned previously, the potential of falling objects is the greatest concern for head protection, and there are some case studies which have actually proven that hard hats do save lives.

There are also alternative initiatives which examine the contact with electrical hazards from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which recognises three classes of electrical performance:

• Class A Helmets are designed to decrease the impact of falling objects and to lessen the risk of being exposed to low voltage electrical conductors. Helmets are tested at 2,200 volts of electrical charge in order to be certified

• Class B Helmets are also intended to decrease the impact of falling objects, but these helmets reduce the risk of coming into contact with high voltage electrical conductors. They are tested at 20,000 volts of electrical charge in order to receive certification 

• Class C Helmets also reduce the force of impact from falling objects, but do not protect against electrical contact Note: The voltages stated in Classes A and B are not an indication of the voltage at which the helmets protect the wearer.
In the Australian Standard AS 1801 there are three types of helmets which are available which include:

• Type 1 Industrial – suitable for work in the construction industry, factories and quarrying

• Type 2 High Temperature Workplaces – suitable to withstand exposure to high temperatures such as steel works. This includes the shell of a heat resistant material, and may have low flammability ear and neck protectors

• Type 3 Bushfire Fighting – as the name implies is intended to be worn for bush fire fighting. It meets requirements for retro reflective marking and flammability

Other risks

Contact with fixed or protruding objects can also be a potential risk – scaffolding installations and other pipework, for instance. External elements such as exposure to inclement weather - sun, heat, rain, wind - can also be a key factor for head protection. Other factors may include introduced potential hazards such as handling of or exposure to chemicals.

Lastly, the head protection may include aspects of specialist fire and emergency rescue situations.


Your risk assessment should include the comfort level of selected PPE such as head wear, as well as the impact of any required accessories such as face shields, neck flaps, cooling pads, earmuffs and shade brims. This requirement should examine the work scope involved and head protection may need to be customised for the job at hand. When considering the choice of accessory the compatibility of the head protection unit must also be reflected.

The wellbeing of workers exposed to high temperatures or heat sources is also a consideration to ensure comfort. Furthermore, the safety helmet ventilation can assist in the relief of fatigue management and discomfort; conversely safety helmets will provide better heat reflection.

Regulatory standards

In some countries such as the UK, Canada, Australia and USA head protection has been mandated – especially in the construction industry. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) refers to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) guidelines for their standard of performance criteria. The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 29 is OSHA’s guideline for Occupational Head Protection (1910.135).

The standard refers to 29 CFR 1910.135(a)(1) and states that “Each affected employee shall wear protective helmets when working in areas where there is a potential for injury to the head from falling objects.” The standard also addresses situations in which electrical hazards are present. 1910.135(a) (2) states “Protective helmets designed to reduce electrical shock hazard shall be worn by each such affected employee when near exposed electrical conductors which could contact the head.”

Protective headwear is also tested for resistance to impact and penetration from hits on the top of the head, water absorption and flammability resistance. The standard describes the thorough testing requirements in part.

Any protective helmet that complies with the ANSI requirements must be marked with certification. The following i

nformation must be stated inside the hat:
• The manufacturer’s name
• The legend, ‘ANSI Z89.1-1986’
• The class designation (A, B or C)
Under Canadian law, the employer must provide employees with appropriate safety gear such as gloves, hard hat or eye protection, when needed. It also states that if you are at risk of head injury at your workplace, you should wear the appropriate head protection.

Here are some other points to consider:
• If head protection is required, establish a complete safety protection programme including selection, fit testing, training, maintenance and inspection
• Choose the correct headwear for the job. Refer to CSA Standard Z94.1-05, Industrial Protective Headwear - Performance, Selection, Care, and Use
Headwear consists of a shell and the suspension. These work together as a system and both need regular inspection and maintenance. Below is a diagram of the hard hat components.
In general, a safety helmet must be worn where a person may:
• Be struck on the head by a falling object
• Strike his/her head against a fixed object
• Inadvertently come into contact with electrical hazards
‘Bump caps’, commonly worn to protect against minimum sideways impact, do not provide protection against any of the hazards described above.
Practical wearer tips

When wearing a hard hat always check the following points:
• Adjust the headband to suit your head size
• Check that the outer shell and harness are in good condition, without indentation or cracks
• Never paint the shell as some paints weaken the plastics used
• Use a chin strap where necessary to avoid the possibility of the safety helmet falling off. This applies particularly to steel erectors
• Do not punch holes into the shell for attaching unauthorised equipment or for ventilation. Attachments for ear defenders or eye protection are available and should only be used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions
• Replace any helmet if it sustains a heavy impact, as the shell may be weakened
• Helmets must be in good condition and replaced according to the manufacturer’s guidelines, usually every two years
According to Section 3 of Australian Standard AS/NZ 1800:1998 details the ‘Care and Maintenance of Occupational Protective Helmets’, and Section 3.4 covers the ‘Working Life’. The Australian Standard specifies a three year replacement date from the date of issue. Each helmet, when manufactured, has a year and month of manufacture stamped onto the inside of the shell near the peak for easy reading. The arrow in the stamp points to the month and the arrow overlays the arrow.

For example, if the arrow points to 9 and the number are 04, then the helmet was manufactured in September 2004.
If the helmet has been used regularly, it should be replaced after three years from the date of issue. The date of issue should be marked on an additional sticker on the inside of the helmet at the back of the shell. The date of issue may not be the same as the date of manufacture. The harness and headband have a life of two years and should be replaced at an earlier date.

On site applications

The Health and Safety Executive in the United Kingdom states contractors will still need to comply with the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations, 1992, which have been amended so that they cover the provision and use of head protection on construction sites.

There have been plenty of examples of near hits/misses on the construction site where workers have had a lucky escape. One recent example in Victoria, Australia describes the events of a crane crew removing a crane tie on level 23 of a building site, where a 40mm flogging spanner had been dropped. 

As the flogging spanner was falling to the ground it struck a lower crane tie before being deflected into the loading bay and hitting the dogman on the hard hat. The injured worker was taken to hospital and suffered a head wound requiring stitches. There was certainly a noteworthy potential for the worker to be fatally injured, however, if it wasn’t for the fact that he was wearing his hard hat.

Above is a picture of the hard hat which saved his life.

An article from WorkSafe Victoria describes a maintenance worker being hit by an object working at the Macarthur wind farm – the electrician is lucky to be alive after being hit by a falling 3kg piece of tubing. The man, 24, was working on a tower at a height of about 50 metres when he was hit on the head and shoulder by the plastic tubing, which had fallen about 20 metres.

The man, an electrical subcontractor, briefly lost consciousness and suffered spinal injuries. Paramedics and emergency services were called to the scene at 8.37am and stretchered the man down a ladder. He was then flown to The Alfred hospital in Melbourne in a stable condition at about 11am. The Leading Senior Constable from Macarthur police said the man’s hard hat probably prevented a fatality. “This shows the importance of wearing safety equipment. It saved his life,” he said.

A personal encounter

When you think of head protection you normally associate it with construction. You look up and someone is yelling “Watch out!” There are many times where I have been on site and seen so many near close calls, near hits/misses where just by a stroke of luck the falling object has missed someone.

From my personal experience I can certainly say wearing protective head protection has served me well, and that I would like to share this story with others so they too can gain an insight into the lessons I have learned.

I had worked at the organisation for approximately five years and the incident happened on my last day of work. I was walking out to finish up for the shift changeover and sign out my paperwork when the incident occurred. As I began to walk the process line something like a metal sharp object had fallen from above and struck my face.

I was in shock more than anything. I checked my face and felt blood slowly dripping from my lip – I had been struck on the top of my lip. On further investigation I went to the bathroom to see the damage and noticed my front right tooth had been chipped as well.

I know what you’re thinking – ‘He wasn’t wearing his safety helmet’ – but I was wearing the appropriate PPE, including my green hard hat.

I reported the incident to my supervisor and we went back to the ‘scene of the crime to see what had actually happened.

On initial investigation we found that a bolt had fallen from the top which was about a 25 metre drop from the gantry crane and was lying on the walkway where I had been struck. On further investigation, the root cause analysis revealed a lack of maintenance priority on the overhanging crane, which was overdue a maintenance service by three months.

To add further insult to injury I was a health and safety representative at the time and couldn’t believe my luck, especially because it was my last day at the workplace. I believe it had all come down to timing, maybe being at the wrong place at the wrong time. If I had been walking a bit faster or a bit slower it may have missed me, but this time unfortunately it had struck my face.

What had caused the bolt to plummet in the first instance could have been vibration of machinery, plant or equipment nearby. There are a number of unknowns. It should have had a locking nut on the other end to keep it connected but the bolt nevertheless managed to become unfastened and I was on the receiving end – and have a chipped tooth to show for it.

Luckily there was a doctor on site who suggested the dentist, and before I knew it I was in the dentist’s chair having my tooth capped. When I look back on it now, especially becoming a safety professional, what it comes down to is that most workplace accidents can be prevented. This was not an act of God.

It was instead a lack of preventative maintenance where the organisation had believed they could get a little bit more out of the crane equipment – but at the cost of my tooth.

These days I see things most differently and yes, the wearing of the head protection hit the peak of my cap and probably acquired most of the gravitational - kinetic energy from the fall, and the wearing of a safety hardhat had prevented a potentially more significant injury.

In some instances a hard hat will protect your life. It’s there for a reason – for your personal safety – so my personal advice is ‘Better to wear it than suffer the consequences later’. 

Published: 03rd Jun 2013 in OSA Magazine


Mark Da Silva

Mark Da Silva is a registered safety practitioner for the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) and has acquired the status of Chartered Fellow - the peak professional graded membership of the SIA. He has academic accreditations including a master’s degree in Applied Science (OHS-RMIT) and a graduate diploma of Occupational Hazard Management (VIOSH), with extensive industry knowledge including safety leadership, organisational behaviour, environmental sustainability and risk.

Through the completion of a master’s thesis on safety leadership, Da Silva has an exemplary understanding of workplace safety culture and behaviour based safety techniques. Case studies developed and proven in Da Silva’s thesis incorporate management commitment considerations, information and communication dimensions, plus workplace perception.

Da Silva has applied his theoretical framework to his professional conduct through the development and implementation of effective safety cultural surveys, which were paramount in many organisations’ cultural step changes, essentially adding value to the safety improvement and action plans for clients.

As a proactive, conscientious and adaptable health, safety and environment professional, Da Silva’s personal aphorism is “Go Home Safe!”

Skilled in developing, implementing and executing key strategic business improvement initiatives, Da Silva draws on wide ranging practical experience, including heavy industrial manufacturing, telecommunications, oil and gas and renewable energy resources, infrastructure operations and the maintenance and construction of major projects, with knowledge attained through academic accreditation.

Mark Da Silva



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