A Closer Look at Fall Protection: Hard Hats, Heights and Worker Safety

Posted by Empire Safety on Apr 19, 2017 10:00:00 AM

why wear hard hats at height

OSHA 29 CFR 1910.135 requires that a hard hat must be worn if there is a potential for employees to be hit on the head with objects falling from above. It also stipulates that if there is a potential for an employee to bump their head (on exposed pipes or beams) or if they may come into contact with electrical hazards, they must be protected with a hard hat. In fact, a recent report in 2016 states that head and neck injuries account for about 12% of emergency room visits. And in 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 240 deaths due to falling objects or equipment (5% of worker deaths).

Of course this is rudimentary information, but the reality is that PPE has a reputation for being uncomfortable and many times, workers skip this crucial part of safety. Some of the reasons workers opt out of wearing safety hard hats include:

  • Too hot
  • Too bulky
  • Too heavy
  • Loose fitting
  • I don’t like the way it looks

When it comes to fall protection, hard hats have a tendency to be overlooked. Industry standards remind us to choose the right equipment for the application. We often discuss guardrails, personal fall arrest systems, ladder safety or safety nets, but when was the last time we talked about head protection and hard hats at height?

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Why working at heights with a hard hat is a no brainer…

If all engineering and administrative controls have been addressed and a worker must work at height, it’s important for them to have the right PPE for the job. From safety googles and gloves to footwear and hard hats, providing protection against the likely hazards that a worker will face will make their job easier and safer. Yes, likely hazards… just check out a few of these statistics:

Falling objects: Workers are struck in the head by falling objects more than 50,000 times every year! With the use of tool lanyards, tools can remain in reach and those injuries can be significantly reduced.

Bumping head: There were 65,000 head injuries and over one thousand people fatally injured due to work related accidents in 2012!

Falls: Even minor falls can have fatal results when working at heights. In the event that a worker hits their head, there is now an additional risk of injury due to dizziness or unconsciousness. When working at any significant height, taking on any unnecessary risks is just irresponsible.

Another important feature of a hard hat when working at heights should be a tether. If protective head gear should fall off during work, it could have devastating results. From a worker instinctively reaching for a falling helmet and falling themselves, to a hard hat falling and injuring a passerby below; the results could be deadly.        

When selecting protective head gear for work at heights, don’t forget to consider levels of protection as well:

  • Class G: General helmets that protect against impact, penetration and allow up to 2,200 volts protection

  • Class E: Electrical helmets that offer the highest level of protection against electrical hazards up to 20,000 volts. Class E helmets also offer protection against impact and penetration

  • Class C: Conductive helmets do not offer any protection against electrical hazards, but are more comfortable for lightweight protection against impact

  • Bump Cap:  Bump caps are also used to protect workers from low clearance areas, but it is important to remember that they don’t offer the same level of protection as a hard hat. These caps aren’t designed to provide protection from falling or flying objects

  • High Heat Caps: Meant to withstand high heat environments, these caps are often made of a thermoplastic material ideal for utilities, welding, foundries and steel mills

Don’t overlook something as simple as offering solutions to protect a worker’s head. Aside from being an inexpensive and easy part of any safety program, the benefits of protecting the noggin aren’t hard to imagine. It is the command center of reasoning, decision making and responsiveness, after all. Why not give it the protection it deserves? Especially, when working in high risk areas. Falls kill more construction workers every year than any other hazard. Save lives by making sure your fall protection systems and fall protection training are top notch.

Topics: Fall Protection, PPE, Fall Protection Training