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When to Wear a Hard Hat

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines for head protection are referenced in 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 1910.135 and 1926.100.

29 CFR 1910.135(a)(1) states, "Each affected employee shall wear protective helmets when working in areas where there is a potential for injury to the head from falling objects." The standard also addresses situations in which electrical hazards are present.

1901.135(a)(2) requires that workers who perform tasks close to exposed electrical conductors should wear hard hats engineered to shield against shocks. The OSHA standards themselves do not identify specific occupations or applications where head protection is required; Appendix B to Subpart I Part 9 lists some examples.

Occupations That Require a Hard Hat

  • Carpenters
  • Electricians
  • Lineman
  • Mechanics and repairers
  • Plumbers and pipe fitters
  • Assemblers
  • Packers
  • Wrappers
  • Sawyers
  • Welders
  • Laborers
  • Freight handlers
  • Timber cutting and logging
  • Stock handlers
  • Warehouse laborers

The appendix also provides examples of general applications where head protection should be worn. In terms of what constitutes a "protective helmet," 29 CFR 1910.135 makes a distinction between hard hats purchased prior to July 5, 1994, and hats purchased after that date. Helmets purchased after July 5, 1994, must comply with the performance guidelines in the ANSI Z89.1-1986, American National Standard for Personal Protection-Protective Headwear for Industrial Workers Requirements. Hats obtained before that date must comply with the 1969 version of the ANSI standard (ANSI Z89.1-1969).

Hard Hat Marking Requirements

All hard hats conforming to the requirements of ANSI-Z89.1-1986 must have the following marked inside:

  • The manufacturer's name
  • The legend, "ANSI Z89.1-1986"
  • The class designation (A, B or C)
  • ANSI Z891.1-1997

Hard hats must also contain user information under the 1997 standard. In addition to the manufacturer's name, ANSI legend and class designation, Z89.1-1997 compliant helmets must be marked with the date of manufacture. Instructions pertaining to sizing, care and service life guidelines must also accompany the hard hat.

ANSI Z89.1-2003

In 2003, ANSI published a revision to the Z89.1-1997. The most significant changes from the 1997 version were made to harmonize with other national standards that test and evaluate equipment performance. Many physical requirements for helmet components that did not provide added user value, limited design or inhibited top performance had been removed.

Hard Hat Tests

ANSI published a revision in January of 2009. The significant changes from the 2003 version are three non-mandatory tests and are easy to understand. Each of these tests, if elected to be tested by the manufacturer, will result in three new markings on the helmet.

The three optional test criteria are:

  • Reverse Donning: Helmets marked with a "reverse donning arrow" can be worn frontward or backward in accordance with the manufacturer's wearing instructions. They pass all testing requirements, whether worn frontward or backward.
  • Lower Temperature: Helmets marked with an "LT" indicates that the hard hat meets all testing requirements of the standard when preconditioned at a temperature of -30°C (-22°F).
  • High Visibility: Helmets marked with an "HV" indicates that the hard hat meets all testing requirements of the standard for high visibility colors. This includes tests for chromaticity and luminescence.

Hard Hat Life Span

OSHA does not specify the service life of a hard hat, and there is no standard expiration time frame for hard hats. Hard hat life span may vary depending on the conditions of each work site. As a general guideline, most hard hat manufacturers recommend replacing hard hats every five years regardless of outside appearance. If you work under extreme conditions, such as exposure to high temperatures, chemicals, or sunlight, hard hats should be replaced after two years of use. In addition, some manufacturers even recommend replacing the suspension in your hard hat every 12 months. It's important to review each work site to ensure that degradation of employees' hard hats is not being accelerated due to work conditions.

Commonly Asked Questions about Hard Hats

Q. Can I put decals on my hard hat?

A. In most instances, yes.

Q. Can hard hats be painted?

A. ANSI Z89.1-2003 Appendix A4 states that caution should be exercised when painting hard hat shells since some paints and thinners may attack and damage the shell and reduce protection levels. The hard hat manufacturer should be consulted before painting.

Q. Can I wear my hard hat backward?

A. Most likely. Check the helmet for the "reverse donning arrow" marking. The current 2009 edition addresses the issues of reverse wearing of hard hats. The standard now provides a non-mandatory test protocol that will allow manufacturers of hard hats to test the helmet and mark it with the "reverse donning arrow." This means the helmet can be worn frontward or backward in accordance with the manufacturer's wearing instructions.

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