1. What is it for?
Head protection is designed to protect you if there is a risk that you could be struck by falling objects and/or strike your head against a fixed object (e.g. where there is restricted headroom).
2. What types are available?
Two types of head protection are generally available:
- Safety helmets — which must comply with national standards or equivalent European norms and should be marked as such inside the shell. They will absorb the force of a blow by partial destruction of, or damage to, the shell and the harness or protective padding inside. If necessary, they can also be fitted with ear defenders and/or visors; and
- Bump caps — a plastic shield designed to fit inside uniform baseball caps. These are more comfortable to wear than safety helmets but are designed only for low-impact hits. They do not provide the same level of protection as safety helmets and must not be worn instead of safety helmets in hard hat zones.
In this section, all references to head protection apply to both safety helmets and bump caps. As you will see, there are some rules which apply specifically to safety helmets only. Full details are given below.
3. What are its limitations?
Safety helmets are intended solely to protect the head against knocks and falling objects. You should bear in mind that if the objects are particularly heavy, or fall from a considerable height, your neck or spine could still be damaged.
Any helmet subjected to a severe impact must be replaced, even if there are no visible signs of damage.
Remember: plastic head protection has a shelf life. In use, it has a life of up to two years. Unused helmets can be stored in their original cartons in a cool dark place but must be used within five years. The date of manufacture is marked on the inside of the helmet. Head protection should also be replaced after a bump or knock.
4. Where must head protection be worn?
Under health and safety legislation, some areas are designated as ‘hard hat zones’. Signs similar to those shown here
indicate that head protection must be worn.
The most common area where officers have to wear head protection is on docksides, but they may also be required in certain storage areas.
If you are visiting traders’ premises, you should be especially aware of any such areas. Factory floors, construction sites and general industrial areas may have hard hat zones.
Health and safety law does not directly require bump caps in certain areas in the same way it does safety helmets. However, if your manager has ordered you to wear a bump cap as a preventive measure to reduce the risk of injury in the course of your work, you must wear one.
Remember: fasten the chin-strap. If you don’t, you could lose the helmet at an inopportune moment. You must also make sure that the internal cradle is properly adjusted to fit your head. If the cradle is too large or too small, contact your supplier to obtain an alternative.
5. How do I look after it?
You should keep head protection clean, but do not wash it in strong detergents. If the helmet is used by more than one person, it is advisable to wipe the inside with a mild disinfectant after each use.
On no account should safety helmets be painted, decorated with adhesive tape, marked with marker pens or deliberately scratched, as this will damage them.
You should inspect safety helmets periodically to check for signs of wear or tear. A record of these inspections should be kept.
When not in use, store all items of head protection in a cool, dark place. They should not be exposed to strong sunlight or extreme heat or cold.
6. What about motorcycle crash helmets?
A crash helmet is usually obligatory when riding a motorcycle or a cycling helmet when riding a bicycle. However, these are not an acceptable substitute in hard hat zones.