Hard hats, or safety helmets, are one of the most recognizable pieces of safety equipment. Unfortunately, since they’re so common, they may not be inspected nearly enough. But a safety helmet must be in proper condition to do its intended job! And when you think about it, it's a piece of PPE that doesn’t cost much but provides huge protection.
They’re pretty durable, but they’re not indestructible. Knowing when a safety helmet needs to be replaced can be somewhat difficult to determine. When a pair of gloves wears too thin, or gets a rip, it’s obvious that they need to be tossed. A hard hat on the other hand, might not show any obvious signs when it needs to be replaced.
Although OSHA doesn’t have a specific service life guideline, many manufacturers do. And even then, the life span can vary greatly depending on the conditions the work is being done in. Let’s say, maybe a blog writer for a safety sales company has a hard hat that they wear out at tower sites once or twice a month for a few hours. That hard hat will probably last longer than the tower hand’s hard hat, which is being worn hundreds of feet in the air in every weather condition imaginable.
Depending on the brand and model, manufacturers recommend that hard hats be replaced anywhere from every 12 months to five years… so there’s no blanket rule. Materials deteriorate at different rates depending on high or low temperatures, sunlight, or chemicals. There’s no way to have a definitive lifespan. Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of the employer to make sure their workers are safe on the job, which is where an inspection plan comes into play.
A few quick inspections can be done every day by a worker.
- First, look over the shell for dents, cracks, gouges or any damage that could have been caused by impact, penetration or abrasion. Basically, you’re looking for something that would compromise the shell in any way. Also, check over the shell to verify that it hasn’t become brittle, stiff or faded at all. Overexposure to direct sunlight can cause this, so make sure the helmets aren’t being stored in the back window of a truck or on the dashboard all day. That’s the fast track to a new helmet purchase.
- Second, take a peek at the suspension system. This is what actually absorbs a lot of the energy from that wrench that was dropped off the ladder. Look it over for any fraying of straps, cracks in the attachment points, deformed or stretch plastic, or other signs of serious wear.
One last thing… a safety helmet is designed to work ONCE. If it is hit with any substantial force, whether from a falling object or even a big drop, it needs to be replaced. Even if there is no visible damage… replace it. Better safe than sorry!