Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Safety Helmets

Every year, in the workplace, particularly in the construction industry, workers are killed and many others injured as a result of head injuries. If you wear a safety helmet your chances of being seriously hurt are greatly reduced. Wearing one could save your life.


Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is always the last line of defence. Wherever possible, other measures should first be taken to reduce or control the risk.

HSE regulations require that suitable head protection i.e. safety helmets, must be provided and worn where there is a risk of injury. If you are in control of a site you need to assess the risks of head injury. There may be risks from falling materials or from knocking into low scaffolds or items of plant. If there is risk of injury you must provide your employees with safety helmets and decide when, where, and how they should be worn. Safety helmets must always be worn in designated "hard hat" areas.

Industrial safety helmets should be designed and manufactured to European Standard BS EN 397, and carry the CE mark. They are intended primarily to provide protection to the wearer against falling objects and are not intended to provide protection against off crown impacts. The mandatory requirements for these helmets includes for them to have flame resistant properties.

In addition to the mandatory requirements the helmets may have shock absorption properties at very low temperatures and very high temperatures, have electrical insulation properties, have lateral deformation properties, and provide protection against molten metal splash.
Helmets are tested to provide a wearer protection from a force roughly equivalent to a 16 oz. hammer dropping 40 feet.

Duties of Employees and the Self-Employed

Employees must wear their safety helmets properly and follow the instructions of the rules made by their employer. They should take care of their helmets and not misuse them. Any defects or problems should be reported promptly.

In the case of self-employed contractors if safety helmets are not provided on site, they must supply their own. They must wear them where there is a risk of head injury or when told to do so by someone in control. They also need to follow the rules made by the person in control of the site, and in addition, maintain and replace the safety helmet whenever necessary.

Selection of Suitable Safety Helmets

Helmets come in a variety of designs and it is important that the right type is provided for the work to be done. A properly fitting safety helmet should have the right shell size for the wearer and an easily adjustable headband, nape and chin strap.

The range of size adjustments should be large enough to accommodate thermal liners often used in cold weather.

The harness is an integral part of all helmets and works by stretching which absorbs some of the energy of the impact. The harness also spreads the force of an impact evenly over the head minimising the risk of harm to the user.

The helmet works rather like the crumple zone on a car. The force of the impact will be largely absorbed by the helmet shell, with the harness also absorbing some of the shock by stretching. The shell or harness may well crack, this is part of the design features.

The helmets should be as comfortable as possible, this helps reduce fatigue levels and to limit the risk of people not wearing them, because they find them uncomfortable.

Comfort is improved by the following:
• A flexible headband of adequate width and contoured both vertically and horizontally to fit the forehead.
• An absorbent sweatband that is easy to clean or replace.
• Textile cradle straps.
• Chin straps (when fitted) which:
o fit around the ears;
o are fitted with smooth, quick-release buckles which don’t dig into the skin;
o are made from non-irritant materials;
o can be stowed on the helmet when not in use.

Wherever possible, the helmet should not hinder the work being done. For example, a helmet with little or no peak is useful for a surveyor taking measurements, or to allow unrestricted upward vision for a scaffold erector. In other areas there may be need of a peak and even a visor.

Chin straps should be provided and used if a job involves work in windy conditions, especially at height, or repeated bending or constantly looking upwards. Helmets should be able to be used with any other PPE, e.g. ear defenders or eye protectors, without limiting the effectiveness or comfort of any of the items. Never attempt to modify existing helmets to take these fittings as this may weaken them.


Safety helmets must be maintained in good condition the following points must be implemented:
• Be stored in a safe place, e.g. on a peg or in a cupboard on site
• Not be stored in direct sunlight or in excessively hot, humid conditions because long-term exposure can weaken the shell.
• Be checked regularly for signs of damage or deterioration.
• Have defective parts replaced (if the model allows this). Parts from one model cannot normally be interchanged with those from another.
• Have the sweatband cleaned regularly or replaced.
Before the safety helmet is issued to another person, it should be inspected to ensure it is serviceable and thoroughly cleaned in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions, e.g. using soap and water. The sweatband should always be cleaned or replaced.

Damage to the Shell

Damage to the shell of a helmet can occur when:
• Objects fall onto it.
• It strikes against a fixed object.
• It is dropped or thrown.
• Certain chemicals can weaken the plastic of the shell leading to rapid deterioration in shock absorption or penetration resistance. Chemicals which should be avoided include aggressive cleaning agents or solvent based adhesives and paints. Where names or other markings need to be applied using adhesives, advice should be sought from the helmet manufacturer.


Normally, helmets should be replaced at intervals recommended by the manufacturer. They will also need replacing when the harness is damaged or if it is likely that the shock absorption or penetration resistance has deteriorated i.e. when the shell has received a severe impact, or if deep scratches occur (i.e. to a depth greater than 25% of the shell thickness) or if the shell has any visible cracks.

Any helmet that has suffered an impact should be replaced whether damage is visible or not. The internal structure of the helmet may be damaged.

There is a lot of confusion as to what is considered to be an acceptable working life of a safety helmet. There are no hard and fast rules concerning this. There is no test in the European Standard to cover this as there are too many variables to be taken into account.

In use, head protection is generally treated with a lack of care, often being thrown or dropped, used for storing or carrying of all sorts of items, or carried on the rear window shelf of a vehicle. Any of these actions are likely to reduce performance.

It is unlikely that a helmet will be offering adequate protection five years after manufacture. With this in mind the European Standard requires the manufacturer to mark each helmet with the quarter or month and year of manufacture.

High Performance Standards

The EN 397 standard is for general use in Industry it may be that in specific tasks there is need to look at a higher standard.

High performance industrial helmets meeting the requirements of EN 14052 offer greater protection from falling objects, protection from off crown impacts and protection from penetration by a flat blade striker. The helmets also include a retention system that meets mandatory requirements for system release and system effectiveness properties. The helmets have the same flame resistant properties as the industrial safety helmets and offer the same optional protection against other risks with the exception of lateral deformation.

Helmets meeting the requirements of EN 12492 are primarily intended to protect the upper part of a wearer's head against hazards that might occur during activities carried out by people climbing. Although originally intended to protect the wearer against hazards that might occur during mountaineering activities, helmets CE marked to this standard are also being marketed for other uses, for example rescue work in hazardous environments and wild land fire-fighting, these are particularly useful for arborists.

They offer protection from falling objects, including front, rear and side impact, and offer protection from penetration. The helmets are ventilated and also include a retention system that meets mandatory requirements for system release and system effectiveness properties. These helmets have no requirements for flame resistance.

Granite Workwear offers helmets that comply to EN 397, EN 12492 and EN 14052, if you are unsure which would be suitable for you please contact us directly using the contact facility on our website.

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