Prevention of head injuries is an important factor in every safety programme. A single injury can handicap an employee for life, or it can be fatal.

In a survey of accidents and injuries by the American Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a division of the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), it was noted that most workers who suffered impact injuries to the head were not wearing head protection. The majority of workers were injured while performing their normal jobs at their regular worksites.

The survey showed that in most instances where head injuries occurred, employers had not required their employees to wear head protection. Of those workers wearing hard hats, all but five percent indicated that they were required by their employers to wear them. It was found that the vast majority of those who wore hard hats all or most of the time at work believed that hard hats were practical for their jobs. According to the report, in almost half of the accidents involving head injuries, employees knew of no actions taken by employers to prevent such injuries from recurring.

The BLS survey noted that more than half of the workers were struck on the head while they were looking down and almost three-tenths were looking straight ahead. While a third of the unprotected workers were injured when bumping into stationary objects, such actions injured only one-eighth of hard hat wearers.

Elimination, or control of a hazard leading to an accident should, of course, be given first consideration, but many accident-causing head injuries are of a type difficult to anticipate and control. Where these conditions exist, head protection must be worn to eliminate injury.

Hard Hats

An example of head protection is the hard hat. Hard hats offer protection because they are manufactured as:

  • A rigid shell that resists and deflects blows to the head
  • A suspension system inside the hat that acts as a shock absorber
  • Some hats serve as an insulator against electrical shocks
  • A shield for your scalp, face and neck, against splashes, spills, and drips

Some hard hats can be modified so you can add face shields, goggles, hoods, or hearing protection to them.

Wearing head protection will save you from head hazards and some of the smart safety controls are below.

Head hazards include:

  • falling objects
  • impact against fixed objects, such as pipes or beams
  • exposed electrical conductors

Head hazard controls include:

  • Hard hat area warning signs
  • Toe boards on elevated areas
  • Avoiding work directly underneath others
  • Use of tool lanyards when working above someone

Types of hard hats (US)

  • Type I – protection from impact to the top of the head
  • Type II – protection from top and side impact

Electrical classifications

  • Class G – reduce the force of impact of falling objects – tested to 2,200 volts
  • Class E – reduce the force of impact of falling objects – tested to 20,000 volts
  • Class C – reduce the force of impact of falling objects – no electrical protection

Smart safety rules:

  • For work at higher elevations, a chin strap is required to prevent your hard hat from being bumped off your head
  • Secure tools when not using them
  • Never walk or work under a suspended load
  • Watch for low overhead clearance hazards

Replace your hard hat if you see signs of:

  • Loss of surface gloss
  • Chalking
  • Flaking
  • Cracks
  • Holes
  • Dents

Replace suspension webbing if:

  • Cracked
  • Torn
  • Frayed
  • Less than one inch between webbing and shell

Wearing a safety helmet on a construction site may prevent or lessen a head injury from falling objects or a person hitting their head against something.

Under the US Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1983:

  • Employers have a ‘Duty of Care’ to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of employees and others
  • Employers must take all practicable measures to control risks against injuries in the workplace
  • Employees have an obligation to cooperate with their employers on health and safety matters
  • Failing to comply with the Duty of Care provisions of the Act is an offence

Duty of care

There is a legal requirement for industry to be responsible for managing workplace health and safety. This requirement, expressed as the Duty of Care principle, is the basis of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1983. Implementing the Duty of Care principle means planning for prevention of workplace accidents, injuries and illness.


The need for safety helmets to be worn on construction sites should be established by the person in control, conducting a hazard assessment.

  1. Employers are responsible for ensuring that a safety helmet is worn on a construction site where:

    1. There is a possibility that a person may be struck on the head by a falling object
    2. A person may strike their head against a fixed or protruding object
    3. Accidental head contact may be made with electrical hazards
  2. Every person on a construction site should wear a safety helmet:

    1. Where there is a risk of a head injury
    2. If required to do so by an employer and/or the person in control of the workplace

Note: It is Compulsory to Wear a Safety Helmet When Carrying Out Demolition Work. Construction Safety Regulation 84(32).

Industry standards for head protection

All safety helmets worn on construction sites should conform to quite specific EN standards.

Guidelines for use of PPE

  • The purpose of PPE – including hard hats – is to control or eliminate hazards or exposure to illness or injury
  • Unless otherwise noted, contractors are to provide the required and needed PPE, medical clearance, and the training and are responsible for the gaining the compliance of their employees
  • The contractor’s safety manager should make regular field inspections to verify compliance
  • The contractor’s designated safety representative should review PPE to ensure that only equipment complying with appropriate regulations is used
  • A contract employee who refuses to use the prescribed PPE or willfully damages this equipment should be subject to disciplinary procedures
  • Contract employees should be trained in the use, inspection, care, and storage of all PPE
  • Defective safety equipment should be removed from service and rendered unusable

Head, eye and face protection

  • In the US, wearing an approved, non-conductive safety hat is mandatory in construction areas and designated site areas at all times. Refer to ANSI Z89.1, Safety Requirements for Industrial Head Protection, and NIOSH standards
  • Construction areas and designated site areas require eye protection at all times. Minimum eye protection includes approved safety glasses with side shields or goggles that meet the standards specified in ANSI Z87.1, Practice for Occupational and Educational Eye and Face Protection. Dark safety glasses are prohibited when working indoors
  • Eye protection is required by OSHA to protect against flying particles, molten metal, hazardous materials, gases, vapours, and light radiation. Employees must wear appropriate eye and face protection during certain tasks, including but not limited to:

A. Welding, burning, or cutting with torches B. Using abrasive wheels, grinders, circular saws, or files C. Chipping concrete, stone, or metal D. Working with materials subject to scaling, flaking, or chipping E. Drilling F. Working under dusty conditions G. Waterproofing H. Using powder-actuated or pneumatic tools I. Working with compressed air or gases J. Working with chemicals or hazardous materials K. Using chop saws, chain saws, masonry saws, or similar equipment L. Working in the immediate area of operations listed above M. Working in laboratories

Respiratory protection devices

  • These should be worn by employees exposed to hazardous concentrations of dust, fumes, mists, gases, smoke, sprays, vapours, or other hazards
  • The contractor is responsible for monitoring their job sites for respiratory hazards. They should take steps to remove their employees if a potentially hazardous situation develops, or they should provide respiratory equipment
  • A respiratory protection programme must be established that includes medical surveillance, training, equipment selection, storage, and maintenance, fitness testing and recordkeeping
  • Some EQ sites require respiratory protection in designated areas. The contractor should verify site requirements with the EQ representative prior to beginning work

Hearing protection

Approved hearing protection must be worn by employees exposed to noise levels above 85 decibels and in site-designated areas. Hearing protection must attenuate noise levels to less than 85 decibels

Blasting and grinding

Obviously, the requirement for head protection will be greater in some industries than others. A major manufacturer who has been a leader in the abrasive blasting and grinding industries since the 1930s developed a supplied air abrasive blasting respirator for use in the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The harsh conditions experienced in abrasive blasting and grinding require advanced protection, where the best protection will be designed with the wearer’s comfort in mind, and created with optimum visibility, a no ‘closed in’ feeling, and with easily replaceable components and climate control options.

Whether blasting with sand, coal slag, walnut shells or another industrial material, the workers need protection against the dangerous rebound created in this process.

Look for abrasive blasting respirators and a neck cuff designed to provide a physical barrier to airborne contaminants.

There are products on the market proven to achieve Assigned Protection Factors of 1,000 in third party testing. This is in sharp contrast to an Air Purifying Respirator (APR), which is only rated for 10 APF (half-face) and 50 APF (full-face) and does not meet the NIOSH requirements of a Type CE respirator, which includes rebound protection.

General requirements

  • The employer should ensure that each affected employee wears a protective helmet when working in areas where there is a potential for injury to the head from falling objects
  • The employer should ensure that a protective helmet designed to reduce electrical shock hazard is worn by each such affected employee when near exposed electrical conductors which could contact the head
  • Employees working in areas where there is a possible danger of head injury from impact, or from falling or flying objects, or from electrical shock and burns, should be protected by protective helmets
  • Helmets should be worn for the protection of employees against impact and penetration of falling and flying objects

Consequences of head injuries

While you would of course want to avoid injuries either by engineering hazards out of the workplace or by wearing appropriate head protection, it is worth taking stock of the possible consequences of a blow to the head – namely the potential for a brain injury.

According to Headway, the brain injury association, one million people attend hospital A&E in the UK following a head injury, while many more head injuries go unreported and are not assessed by medical professionals.

  • Of these, around 135,000 people are admitted to hospital each year as a consequence of brain injury
  • It is estimated that across the UK there are around 500,000 people (aged 16 – 74) living with long term disabilities as a result of traumatic brain injury
  • Approximately 85% of traumatic brain injuries are classified as minor, 10% as moderate and 5% as severe
  • Men are two to three times more likely to have a traumatic brain injury than women. This increases to five times more likely in the 15-29 age range
  • Life expectancy for brain injury survivors is normal, so over time, what may seem like a low volume problem becomes a high volume one

Effects of brain injuries

  • Behaviour and personality: anxiety, depression, loss of motivation, difficulty controlling anger, and impulsivity
  • Cognitive: problems with memory, attention and concentration, low tolerance of noisy or stressful environments, loss of insight and initiative
  • Physical: loss of co ordination, muscle rigidity, paralysis, epilepsy, difficulty in speaking, loss of sight, smell or taste, fatigue, and sexual problems
  • Initial diagnosis of severity of injury is not a reliable indicator of long-term problems
  • Relationships with family and friends can be placed under immense strain
  • Relatives report that the ten most difficult problems are personality changes, slowness, poor memory, irritability, bad temper, tiredness, depression, tension and anxiety, rapid mood changes, and threats of violence

It’s clear that the above symptoms of brain injury are ones any employee would want to avoid, and any employer would want to prevent. There’s no question that injuries to the head are very serious – so use your head and wear your hard hat. It might just save your life today?

Author Details:

Cynthia Roth has been a professional in the ergonomics industry since 1987. In 1993 she co-founded Ergonomic Technologies Corp, (ETC), where currently she is the Chairperson of the Board and Chief Executive Officer. She has lectured to the Fortune 500 Companies in the US and abroad and to many international companies. Ms Roth lectures on safety, ergonomics, product designs, future trends, motivating employees, and biomechanics to top engineering universities and colleges around the world.

Ms Roth was elected to the Board of the American Society of Safety Engineers Foundation (ASSEF), served as Vice Chair and Chair and currently serves on the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) Council on Professional Affairs. She has also been appointed as a permanent member of New York State’s Commission on International Trade and has travelled to Brazil, Argentina and Chile on behalf of the State of New York. Ms Roth is a member of the NYC Advisory Board to the Mayor and has also served as a consultant to the Department of Labor, OSHA, Occupational Hazards and CTD News. She represents University of Pittsburgh, as a board member to Fiat Pax (using technology for world peace).

Ms Roth is a published author having written the chapter on Ergonomics for Maynard’s Industrial Engineering Handbook, used by the majority of engineering students worldwide, and wrote the Handbook on Ergonomics for the National Safety Council.

Ms Roth received a degree from the University of Pittsburgh as a professional registered nurse with specialties in Occupational Nursing and Biomechanics.

She also completed postgraduate work at Cornell University in Labour Relations/Industrial Management. ?

Contact: Cynthia L Roth, CEO, Ergonomic Technologies Corp (ETC)? T: 516.682.8558 ext.21?

Published: 10th Jul 2011 in Health and Safety International