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Choosing the Right Head Protection - Hard Hats vs Helmets

Posted 9th October 2019

Falls from heights are the single biggest cause of death or serious injury in the workplace in New Zealand. It’s important to use the right type of head gear for your selected industry. The first place to start is to know the difference between a hard hat and a helmet.

 

What’s The Difference between a Hard Hat and a Helmet?

Hard HatHard Hat Impact Test

Hard Hats are designed to protect the head from falling objects. It is suitable for use if you want to protect yourself from falling debri, rain or impact with other objects. A hard hat needs to have standard AS/NZS 1801:1997 to be compliant with the Health & Safety at Work Act 2015. These have been tested to withstand an impact of 3kg object falling from 1m.

Hard hats should be worn in any area that has the potential for workers:

  • To be hit or struck by falling, fixed, moving or protruding objects.
  • To come in contact with electricity.
  • Be exposed to UV, weather, and extremes of temperature.

 

Helmet with Strap-1Helmet Impact Test

A helmet on the other hand has protection from multi impact with a chin strap ensuring the helmet does not come off. A helmet is essential for those working with heights as it can withstand multiple points of impact. In New Zealand, we rely on mainly the European standard EN 12492:2012. These have been tested to withstand 5kg weights from any direction fall of 500m or 3kg from 1m.

A good helmet should be able to absorb impact but also have a non-releasing chin strap to stop the helmet falling off. There are other variations of helmets that have automatic chin strap release if falling with a certain force to avoid strangulation.

What to Look For In a Helmet

Depending on the industry, the main things to look for are solid shell exterior, comfortable and strong inner pads that can be removed for washing and non-releasing chin straps. Ensure the helmet is constructed with top quality state of the art materials and that it meets the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. It should also meet the requirements of the Fall Protection Standards. Different industries have different requirements as well.

For example, if working in an electrical industry, appropriate helmets are designed to protect from electrical insulation (electric shock). They must also have capacity for ear and eye protection (earmuffs and visors). The helmets must not be vented. For most other industries, there are helmets with vents to allow ventilation and reflective tapes for high visibility as well.

 

Does it Matter What Colour a Helmet is?

There are no regulatory requirements for hats to be any particular colour. However, we recommend the use of conspicuous colours like neon yellow in situations where visibility is vital, especially in forestry or arborist work.

Using different colours gives the opportunity to distinguish different workers on a worksite. Commonly used selections are:

GREEN: Safety, Medical Officers

ORANGE: Road Crews, Crane Signaller

YELLOW: Construction Workers, Machinery Operators, Forestry

RED: Electricians

BLUE: Plumbers

WHITE: Engineers, Architects, Supervisors

 

Safety Checks for a Helmet

Safety Helmets have a “Use by Date” or a “Working Life” as set out in section 3 of the AS/NZS 1800 standard under “Care and Maintenance of Occupational Protective Helmets” and section 3.4 covers the “Working Life”

At the time of issue to the wearer, the helmet should be marked with the issue date. Field tests have shown that generally, helmet shells have a life of at least 3 years from the time of issue. Components of harnesses may deteriorate more rapidly in service and harnesses should, therefore, be replaced at intervals no longer than 2 years.

Note that this advice relates to the date of issue, NOT the date of manufacture. We recommend that hard hats be tested every 6 months just to be safe as some helmets will need to be replaced earlier than the recommended period especially if the user environment has higher exposure to temperature extremes, sunlight or chemicals.

 

How to Look After Your Helmet?

Helmets can’t be expected to meet the standards if their structural strength has been compromised through damage. Here are ways to look after your helmet.

  • Helmets should be stored in a dry place out of direct sunlight.
  • Helmets should not be stored in the back of a vehicle where they are exposed to direct sunlight or Heat. Over time both will deteriorate the strength of helmets
  • Care should be taken to ensure the correct type of product is used when marking or branding a safety Helmet.
  • Paint, stickers, petrol or cleaning chemicals may cause deterioration or can cause a helmet to weaken due to the solvents used in them.

I bet some of our customers don’t know that hard hats have expiry dates. This might be an opportunity for us to check in with them and see if they are complying with the safety act.

 

Hard hats have expiry dates

You need to record the date of issue and replace hard hats on a regular schedule. Most helmets have a sticker on which the date of issue to the wearer should be filled out. Australian/NZ Standard AS/NZ 1800:1998 states: "

At the time of issue to the wearer, the helmet should be marked with the issue date. Field tests have shown that generally, helmet shells have a life of at least 3 years from the time of issue. Components of harnesses may deteriorate more rapidly in service and harnesses should, therefore, be replaced at intervals not longer than 2 years.

Note that this advice relates to the date of issue, not the date of manufacture. We recommend that hard hats should be replaced routinely after two or, at most, three years of use, especially if the user environment has higher exposure to temperature extremes, sunlight or chemicals. Helmets can’t be expected to meet the standards if their structural strength has been compromised through damage.

 

Recommendation

It is recommended you do not wear clothing items on your head as this will result in the harness cradle becoming ineffective. This includes hoods, baseball caps, thickly woven or heavily seamed beanies or balaclavas. As an alternative, Transquip offer seamless polypropylene beanies which do not interfere with the performance of the harness cradle.

 

For more advice on choosing the right type of head protection gear for your specific industry, please contact us directly so we can help you.