Hard hats are the most iconic and easily recognized example of personal protective equipment. They have been used to protect workers on construction sites and in industrial settings for generations. The modern hard hat has evolved with the times to offer more protection and comfort to the worker. Made from super durable resins or high-density polyethylene, hard hats are strong, lightweight, durable and designed to visibly inform the user if they have been compromised.
Despite these innovations and the hard hat’s long history of use and effectiveness—not to mention that hard hats are relatively easy to maintain—hard hat usage among workers is rarely at full compliance. Significant head injuries that require days away from work have increased by 33% between 2010 and 2020. To better protect your workers and reduce the number of lost-time injuries due to head injuries, make sure your PPE program is properly covering the following areas.
Educate and motivate
One way to motivate workers to wear hard hats is to educate staff on what exactly they are putting on their heads and what it’s protecting them from. In onboarding, compliance training, toolbox talks, and informal supervisor-led conversations, provide employees with tangible facts on the specific hard hats used in the workplace, including how the material, suspension system and class designation of the hat protects workers and what the thresholds are for how much force, or voltage for electric hazards, they can withstand.
To drive home the importance of wearing hard hats, inform employees of the hazards present in the workplace and why these hard hats were chosen to protect them. Always use real-world examples and, if possible, firsthand testimonials of people who have been injured or have witnessed head injuries or near misses. An informed worker who understands the function and design of hard hats, the nature of the hazards in the workplace and the injuries they help reduce is far less likely to be cavalier or forgetful.
Comfort and fit
A major deterrent for hard hat use is discomfort. Anything less than a snug fit can cause the hard hat to chafe and rub against the skull, causing frustration and annoyance for the wearer. A poor fit also compromises performance because if the hard hat is not centered on the skull it does not provide full protection. Hard hats are equipped with knob-adjustable suspension systems and extra padding that make it easier than ever to create a great fit for any size and shape of head. In the past, workers often utilized bandanas and skull caps to improve comfort and fit; new hard hats have reduced the need for these accessories.
The best practice is for supervisors or safety professionals to work with each worker one on one to help them customize their helmets and establish the perfect fit, and follow up with spot checks and periodic toolbox talks to sustain the practice. It’s important to advise staff not to mix and match shells with suspension systems from different brands; they are designed to be used as a set and doing otherwise could reduce their effectiveness. A snug fit makes for a safe and happy worker.
Human factors can significantly influence hard hat compliance and should be proactively attended to. Most notably, workers are much more likely to forget or remove their hard hats when they’re frustrated, in a rush or complacent. For example, a work crew under tight deadlines is instructed to finish a job as fast as possible, which causes them to rush and increases the chances of them not following all safety protocols, including potentially failing to wear their hard hat as a result.
One of the trickiest things about dealing with human factors is that they can be hard for individuals to identify and respond to without formal training. A proper human factors safety course will teach workers how human factors can lead to incidents in the workplace, how to recognize the presence of human factors, and how best to guard against their influence and minimize their impact.
Choice and accessories
One way to boost worker interest in wearing head protection is to offer various options when issuing hard hats, instead of handing out the same standard-issue piece of PPE to everyone. Suppliers now offer a wide range of colors and styles, and soliciting the opinion of employees on their preference can allow workers to express themselves and boost morale. It’s a powerful way of signaling to workers that the company is investing in them and cares for their well-being on a personal level. If a rainbow of hard hats seems like a distraction and too administratively difficult, consider the alternative of an informal survey among staff and using the data to inform the final decision of which color to purchase for everyone.
Hard hat compliance is mandatory, but it goes without saying that hard hat usage is less than 100%. The benefits of taking extra steps to improve compliance are far-ranging; lower incident rates, less sick leave, lower insurance rates, and less hiring and re-training costs. A company that educates and motivates on the value of hard hats, demonstrates exactly how hard hats prevent injuries, explains the impact of human factors, and shows they aren’t afraid to invest in worker preferences can expect better PPE compliance and improved overall safety as a result.