Mistakes are often made when choosing safety helmets and their attachments. SHEQ MANAGEMENT takes a look at what to consider when purchasing safety helmets for specific applications.

It is estimated that 89 000 cases of traumatic brain injury (TBI) are reported in South Africa each year. While the majority of TBIs are a result of vehicle accidents and interpersonal violence, about 25 percent can be attributed to falls. International statistics suggest that ten percent of TBIs are caused by workplace injuries.

Safety helmets or hard hats assist in protecting employees from TBIs, along with a number of other possible injuries. However, with a wide range of different models from which to choose, employers are often left unsure as to which hard hats are most suited to their particular industry.

Check list for picking a hard hat

Taryn Pillay, laboratory quality controller for North Safety Products (NSP) Africa, explains that it is important to undertake a risk assessment to determine the correct type of hard hat required. The ideal material used for the safety helmet in a particular application may differ.

Hard hats made from polycarbonate-based materials, for example, can resist heat of up to 140°C, polypropylene resists heat of up to 160°C and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) can resist heat of about 105°C.

The safety helmet should comply with a standard to ensure the user gets the maximum protection. Pillay notes that NSP products comply with the South African National Standards (SANS) 1397:2003.

“Depending on the type of environment in which the helmet is being used, the colour of the hard hat should be considered to ensure visibility. Also, ensure that the choice of helmet includes slots for attaching accessories if and when required. Helmets with an ultraviolet (UV) inhibitor should be considered as this ultimately extends the lifespan of the helmet when used outdoors,”
she adds.

Taking care of safety helmets

A common mistake companies make when purchasing safety helmets is to assume that the date marked on the hard hat is an expiry date.

“It is in fact the date of manufacture. There is no fixed expiry date for hard hats, but, like any other product, they come with instructions and recommendations, which need to be adhered to in order to ensure the maximum lifespan of the product,” Pillay says.

Hard hats may deteriorate over time, due to UV rays when worn outdoors, as well as from sweat, liquids and other substances.

“As a general guideline, manufacturers of hard hats suggest replacing them every two to three years from the date of issue to the user. Regular inspections are vital if a helmet is exposed to higher temperatures, extreme sunlight, harsh chemicals or other adverse conditions. Helmets should be replaced immediately if there are any signs of damage,” Pillay continues.

A standard safety helmet can come with a variety of attachments such as a chin strap or visor. The necessary attachments will depend on the application. Pillay notes, however, that there are a few essential accessories, which include face shields, earmuffs, lamp brackets, cable clips and chin straps.

“Helmets should never be adapted in any way in order to fit attachments, as this could hinder the level of protection offered. Only recommended accessories should be used,” she adds.

Some safety helmets have a wider rim that offers additional protection, particularly against the elements. There are also helmets that feature vents to provide continuous airflow, which makes them ideal for employees working in warmer conditions.

NSP plans to introduce another hard hat to the wide variety it already has available. Pillay elaborates: “NSP is in the process of launching a new helmet with an innovative design – the SH1520.”

It is important to asses the working environment prior to purchasing safety helmets to ensure the correct hard hats are chosen. As with most personal protective equipment, hard hats should comply with SANS criteria, be inspected frequently and replaced every few years, or when they are compromised.

Equipping employees with the correct hard hats will go a long way to ensuring that they are well protected while at the workplace.

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