Head Protection - It's a no-brainer! (information provided by 3M Safety)
What is the purpose of the human brain? As you well may know, it is the centre of our nervous system and responsible for controlling our bodily functions. Without it we could not breathe, read, play, love, remember...the list is endless. It’s fair to say that the brain is the most vital organ in our body, so important that mother nature packaged this fragile spongy mass of fat and protein in its own protective cavity, the skull, to protect it from injury - the only organ in the human body encased in bone. However, unfortunately the skull alone cannot protect the brain all of the time. Trauma to the brain, even seemingly minor head injuries can cause permanent behavioural and cognitive problems, such as memory loss, inability to concentrate, sleep disorders and in some cases, permanent disability or death.
The importance of head protection.
The information above is obvious to most people. From children riding their bikes in the playground, to the sports arena, the work site and battlefield, head protection is important. Particularly for those who work on busy construction sites and other industrial settings where there is a potential for head injuries from falling objects, flying/swinging objects, nearby overhead hazards, possible contact with electrical hazards and so much more. Hard hats have been used since days of old, where they evolved from a helmet used to provide protection solely in warfare, to the standard protective hard hats we see in industry today.
Many workplace deaths and traumatic brain injuries have been reported due to head injuries. In environments where the nature of work is susceptible to such injuries the use of a hard hat is typically mandated. So why is it that head injuries leading to traumatic brain injuries resulting in temporary or permanent disability and even death are still so common in a range of workplace accidents around the world? Especially when the hard hat, a tough life saving piece of personal protective equipment can be purchased at minimal cost and is seen in possession by many workers required to wear them.
In Australia in 2016-17, there were 3,455 serious head injury claims,
of which 1,125 related directly to the cranium, the part of the
skull that encloses the brain.
- Source: Safe Work Australia, Australian workers’ Compensation Statistics 2016 -2017 -
With so much information and knowledge about the importance of wearing hard hats, why are they often neglected and not worn, or worse, fail to provide the protection they are designed to deliver? Lets take a look at why this may be the case with some common excuses and actual reasons:
- It’s too hot to wear a hard hat
- I’ve never been hurt before
- I look silly in this thing
- There’s no danger in my environment
- Incorrect size
- Slips or comes off when in use
- Not fit for use (damaged or out of service life)
- Worn incorrectly
- Wrong class of hard hat being used for the task
There are no valid excuses not to wear a hard hat if required, even if there are no visible signs of danger in certain work environments, you must always wear your head protection. The volatile nature of these environments means they can change without a moment’s notice, this is exactly when the hard hat comes into play. There are many cases where objects have deflected from many metres away striking the heads of distant, unaware workers causing serious injury and even death.
The composition of a hard hat and how they work
In Australia and New Zealand, the AS/NZS 1801:1998 standard specifies the requirements for occupational protective helmets to protect wearers heads when there is a risk of being hit on the head by falling objects or from collisions with fixed objects in building and construction, quarrying, shipbuilding, forestry, and other occupations with similar hazards. The standard also stipulates the construction and materials of the helmet shell and head harness, mechanical strength of the shell and finish of the helmet.
The standard specifies three types of occupational protective helmets into the following classifications:
- Type 1 - general industrial safety helmets.
- Type 2 - helmets intended for high temperature workplaces.
- Type 3 - helmets intended for bushfire fighting.
So exactly how does the humble hard hat protect our noggin, and in turn our brain? Let’s explore the anatomy of a hard hat and how this simple piece of kit prevents injuries.
- The sturdy one piece moisture-resistant shell typically constructed from high density impact resistant plastic or other thermoplastic material is designed to repel or deflect blows to the head.
- It serves to shield the scalp from environmental and worksite elements such as splashes, rain, high heat, and exposure to ultraviolet light.
- Dependant on the model, some hard hats provide head protection for those working with or near low voltage electrical hazards.
- The brim of the hard hat prevents spilled or splashed liquids from running into your eyes.
- The harness or suspension system, the most critical component of any hard hat keeps the helmet away from your head and acts as a shock absorber, absorbing the force of any impact and distributing it evenly. It also serves as ventilation during use.
- Facilitate with the implementation of other appropriate PPE by integrating with face shields, goggles, hearing protection and lights.
- The ratchet or other locking system is used to adjust the headband to minimise movement on the head for a secure, snug and comfortable fit
- The chin strap ensures the helmet stays on your head
When choosing a hard hat, as with any PPE, its important that it complies with local standards to provide greater peace of mind and best practice. Only then should you look at comfort, fit and accessories to ensure worker compliance and satisfaction. To provide maximum protection a hard hat needs to be fitted correctly and worn according to the manufacturers’ instructions. It must fit securely on the head with the nape strap sitting low on the head at the base of the skull and the suspension must be adjusted to a snug and secure fit so that it will not fall off.
The Do's and Don't of hard hat safety
The hard hat is a vital piece of personal protective equipment. To perform its job correctly, the hard hat needs to be in tip top condition, this is true of all PPE. With that in mind, here are some best practice recommendations to ensure your head protection serves you well:
- Store objects between the suspension and the shell of the hard hat - these stored materials may cause serious injury if forced into the skull in the event of an impact.
- Store hard hats in direct sunlight when not in use - prolonged exposure to sunlight will degrade most plastic shells.
- Use paints, solvents, chemicals, adhesives, gasoline or similar substances on a hard hat - these materials can cause deterioration to the shell’s ability to withstand impact and penetration.
- Alter, puncture, modify or engrave the shell or the suspension of a hard hat.
- Use your hard hat as a bucket to carry tools or any other objects.
- Purposely drop, throw or use your helmet to sit on.
- Store your hard had in a clean dry area after use.
- Wear your hard hat the right way (not back the front).
- Dispose of the hard hat immediately if it has sustained an impact, even if the damage is not visible.
- Inspect your hard hat shell and suspension before every use - check for cracks, frayed straps and any sign of damage.
- Replace your hard hat immediately if you notice any signs of wear, damage, abuse or degradation.
- Maintain your hard hat on a regular basis - clean the hard hat and suspension with mild soap and water, rinse and wipe dry.
- Replace the head harness at intervals no longer than two years as per AS/NZS 1800:1998.
- Replace your hard hat at regular intervals - hard hats don’t last forever, even with proper care, wear and tear is inevitable, as a result AS/NZS 1800:1998 3.4 states that the average service life for a safety helmet is three years from time of issue or earlier if the helmet has changed in colour, exhibits any signs of wear or damage due to impact or deterioration.