Whether you work on construction projects every day, or you have never even stepped foot on a building site before in your life, you probably know what hard hats are for. Sometimes also referred to as industrial safety helmets, hard hats are used by those who work on construction sites, or wherever there may be a risk of an accident resulting in a head injury. They are just one of many essential items designed to protect the health and safety of those working on or visiting an active construction site.

Personal Protective Equipment

Any building site is a high-risk environment, regardless of whether it is a building or civil engineering project or an onshore or offshore industrial building site – accidents can always happen. When working in any area where a construction worker or visitor can sustain a head injury, or when working on electrical projects where the potential for contact with dangerously charged objects and materials, safety measures should always be taken. If construction workers are also working on or near high-traffic areas, like highway developments, they will need additional protection from any flying debris or possible vehicles accidents. Hard hats, along with many other preventive tools, are purpose-built to act as a last resort in situations where risks cannot be controlled by other means or have failed to do so. These instruments are officially referred to as Personal Protective Equipment or PPE.

The functions and additional features of hard hats

Hard hats or industrial safety helmets are intended to prevent – or at the very least – lessen the impact and severity of any head injury sustained whilst in a construction site. This can happen in a number of ways, such as falling objects, restricted headroom, striking an unprotected fixed object, or in a fall, to give just a few common examples. While construction sites across the United Kingdom are required to meet certain health and safety standards, they are also busy, fast-paced environments, which provides plenty of opportunities for potential injuries. They also offer a range of other additional features for the safety, comfort, and security of the wearers, including, but not limited to:

  1. A gutter to streamline rain and other precipitation away from the face
  2. Ventilation holes for breathability and keeping the head of the wearer from overheating, or replaceable sweatbands for absorption
  3. A peak design to prevent possible dazzling
  4. A chinstrap for a more secure fit, or a chin guard for further protection
  5. Heat resistance and chemical resistance for those working in a more high-risk environment
  6. A removable visor to avoid compromised vision regardless of the external conditions
  7. Earmuffs integrated as ear defenders for protection of the wearers’ eardrums and hearing while working on / visiting high-noise projects – it is also possible for accidental explosions to occur at any time on any kind of construction site, which can also be damaging to people’s hearing
  8. LED lights built into the actual helmet, or separately LED lights which can be attached to the helmet

Some industrial safety helmets even offer the addition of a worker alert system, whereby a warning alarm buzzer is activated when the wearer is in too close proximity with machinery and structures. This functions by mounting a sensor on the back of the hard hat which uses GPS and RFID technology to detect when the wearer’s head is dangerously close to something, preventing near misses in a collision between machines, structures, and personnel.

Regulation and legislation of hard hat use on construction sites

The consistent use of hard hats only became compulsory on the majority of construction sites in the UK recently. Since 1989 the Construction (Head Protection) Regulations 1989 was the active legislation enforcing the rules of hard hat use until the spring of 2013 when these guidelines were revoked. Obviously, under the new regulations, wearing an industrial safety helmet on a building site is only mandatory under certain working conditions and circumstances, depending on thorough risk assessments. Hard hat use on construction sites has since been regulated by the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 (as amended) and the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002.

Within other regulatory standards

However, these rules not to govern hard hat use in situations where requirements for PPE are contained within other regulatory standards, such as the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 or the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) 2002. These laws have somewhat altered the various circumstances under which you may be required to wear a hard hat, but these situations are still regulated by the aforementioned legal guidelines.

National Building Specification

The National Building Specification (NBS) has a variety of resources for the construction industry available through its online technology platform regarding health and safety concerns and legislation. This also includes a fantastic and fully comprehensive article to aid in understanding the proper use and maintenance of construction hard hat regulations, which you can access here.

Accommodating religious exceptions within the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002

An important amendment to note here is the protection against discrimination, laid out by the Employee Act 1989. Anyone entering a construction site is protected from discrimination on the basis of their race, religion, etc., in Section 12 of this act, while Section 11(1) of the Employment Act 1989 (as amended by s.6 of the Deregulation Act 2015) sets out the civil liberty position. This details a specific exception for Sikhs who choose to wear a turban for religious reasons, who are exempted from what would otherwise be compulsory hard hat use in a workplace. This does not, however, exempt Sikhs who do not choose to wear turbans, nor any other religious groups, from following the applicable laws on a construction site. It is also important to note that this exception for turban-wearing Sikhs only covers the specific topic of hard hat use and in no way extends to exempt these individuals from taking other necessary precautions for health and safety purposes, as dictated by the legal regulations and recommendations of the site manager at the construction site in question. These people will still be required to follow guidelines and use all other types of Personal Protective Equipment deemed necessary on any given building site.

Common myths about when, where, and why hard hats are necessary

Different myths and opinions on whether to wear hard hats or not exist between a wide range of people. Here are some common misconceptions on hard hats and their regulation.

1. You have to wear one every time you are on site

A common myth about hard hats is that you have to be wearing one every single time you set foot on any kind of construction or building site – but while it is common for them to be required equipment, it is not always necessarily the case. In actuality, you will only need to wear one if the relevant regulatory standards dictate that this is the case. This will depend on the conclusions of a previously conducted risk assessment, based on whether any risk of head injury has been identified. This will vary between construction sites, as each will have their own rules and regulations in place, so it may or may not be necessary to wear a hard hat whilst on the site. In some cases, a construction site may not have identified any risk of head injury in their risk assessment but may, for example, involve running a noisy operation and so require anyone on site to wear ear defenders.

2. You don’t need to wear them on domestic construction sites

Another common misconception regarding construction hard hats is that you don’t need to wear them on domestic construction sites. Regardless of the nature, purpose, or scale of the construction site/project, you will be required to wear the necessary safety equipment if a risk assessment has identified the possibility of any potential injuries. Similarly, some hold the opinion that wearing a hard hat for only a short visit on a building site is unnecessary. However, even if you are only doing a quick job or taking a brief visit on any kind of active construction site, you should still follow the applicable health and safety laws and recommendations, as per the rules set out by the National Building Specification (NBS) of the UK. The duration of your visit is irrelevant when it comes to the possibility of a serious accident occurring. If an accident is going to happen, it could be at any time and the consequences could be disastrous if you have not taken the necessary safety precautions to protect yourself. Thinking you don’t need to bother for a quick job is simply not a chance that is worth taking.

3. You should only wear them when the site manager is around

It is also not uncommon for people to believe that you only really have to wear your hard hat when the site manager is around. You may think wearing a hard hat on a building site is just an unnecessary precautionary measure taken and enforced by the site manager to present the image of a safe, law-abiding building site that employs proper health and safety regulations. On the contrary, if you have been told you are required to wear a hard hat on site (or any PPE for that matter) it is because the site has been carefully and expertly assessed for any potentiality of risk to the health and safety of workers and visitors alike.

The supply and use of hard hats on construction sites

While self-employed construction workers and subcontractors will need to bring their own safety helmets to work on a construction site, any visitors or permanent employees are provided with a hard hat upon entering the site by either their employer or the main contractor of the project. Visitors need to ensure that the helmet they are given fits properly to effectively protect them from head injury if an accident should occur during their time on site.

It is also vital for visitors and workers alike to not wear any additional headwear underneath their hard hat, as this can compromise its effectiveness as it will be less secure. You can, if needed for working on construction sites in incredibly low temperatures, purchase specially designed hard hat liners for extra protection. These can either be liners with a fleece double foam layer or full-face hard hat liners. These are purpose-made items specifically designed to act as an extra level of protection and comfort, without reducing the effectiveness of its fit or ability to protect the wearer from a head injury. You can also choose to purchase both nylon and cotton liners to aid in retaining your body heat and act as a flame-retardant level of protection.

Other types of Personal Protective Equipment and Respiratory Protective Equipment

Depending on the circumstances of the building project and the reported potential for health and safety violations and workplace accidents named in the risk assessment of the site, the requirements for what PPE you will need will vary. The site manager will always be aware of the various rules regarding safety equipment on their project site. So, whether you need to wear a hard hat or not, ensure you are also prepared to wear other forms of PPE or RPE (Respiratory Protective Equipment). This could include ear defenders, a respirator, goggles or protective eyewear, gloves, steel-toe-capped work boots, a high-visibility jacket, vest, or other full body protection, and any number of other items deemed necessary. There is an array of different categories and forms of Personal Protective Equipment, including some of the following:

For protecting the eyes from chemical or metal splash, dust, projectiles, gas and vapour, or radiation you can use:

  • Safety spectacles, goggles, face screens, face shields, or visors

For protecting the head and neck from falling or flying objects, risk of head bumping, hair getting tangled in machinery, chemical drips or splash, or climate and temperature:

  • Industrial safety helmets (or hard hats), bump caps, hairnets, or firefighters’ helmets

For protecting the ears from noise (consider the intensity, the sound level and the duration of exposure) you can use:

  • Earplugs, earmuffs, or semi-insert and canal-caps

For protecting the lungs from oxygen-deficient atmospheres, dust, gases, and vapours you can use:

  • Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) including respirators, power-assisted respirators, and filtering facepiece respirators, a fresh-air hose, a compressed airline, or a self-contained breathing apparatus

There are countless more options available for protecting the worker’s arms, hands, legs, feet, and entire body. The above items listed, as well as a full list of other Personal Protective Equipment, are taken from the Health and Safety Executive website, found in this article on preventing risk in the workplace. The government-focused news source Safety and Health Practitioner (SHP) Online has this helpful comprehensive online resource which also fully details the Personal Protective Equipment 2018 regulations, advice for the best health and safety practice for professionals, and suggestions for further reading on the subject matter. It also has a descriptive infographic to show you some of the most important facts and figures regarding PPE.

Proper construction site working conditions

While ensuring every worker and visitor on a construction site is properly equipped with the necessary PPE, the site has been assessed for risk, and the recommended precautionary measures have been put into place, there still may be other reasons for postponing/rescheduling a workday. This may be due to extenuating circumstances such as less than optimal weather conditions. These circumstances are mainly heavy rainfall, snow, sleet, or any other kind of precipitation that could endanger workers performing potentially risky activities. The danger of slippery surfaces and materials could compromise the ability of construction workers to do their jobs safely and effectively.

Manufacturing PPE in compliance with the standards of the PPE Regulations 2002

There is a range of legislation which mandate that employers have the responsibility to make sure that any kinds of Personal Protective Equipment that they provide their workers and visitors are up to the official standards of the PPE Regulations 2002. This may be categorised under a number of legislative acts, such as the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) 2002, Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992, Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations, Noise at Work Regulations, and countless more. You can find a comprehensive report of all of this and more on the Health and Safety Executive website, including 9 detailed appendices covering every element of Personal Protective Equipment and its standards of use in the workplace.

The regulations for the design, manufacture, testing, and supply of Personal Protective Equipment is put in place by the Personal Protective Equipment Directive, which is implemented within the United Kingdom by the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002 and enforced by Trading Standards Officers (TSOs). Under the PPE Regulations 2002, those who are responsible for the goods – i.e. those who manufacture PPE or import PPE into Europe from non-European countries – must either directly comply with the basic health and safety requirements of the PPE Regulations 2002, or with European Standards which have been developed to allow external manufacturers and importers to work in compliance with the existing health and safety requirements (there is a presumption of conformity to these standards). For the most part, PPE manufacturers work in accordance with the production standards of the PPE Regulations 2002, which means the PPE they produce for use in the workplace is properly marked to show compliance with the required health and safety EN standards.

Types and classes of industrial hard hats

There are two different major types of industrial hard hats classes. These two types distinguish between the location of impact protection on the hard hats. Type 1 industrial hard hats are designed to reduce the force of impact resulting in blows to just the top of the head, such as falling tools or objects. Type 2 industrial hard hats are also designed to reduce the force of impact resulting in blows to both the top of the head, as well as protecting the sides of the wearers’ heads from the damaging force of impact, such as hitting your head on a sharp or exposed structure. The Type 2 helmets are able to achieve this extra level of protection by adding a specially designed high-density foam lining inside the helmet for extra protection.

Hard hat life span, maintenance, care, and replacement

If you check the manufacturer’s label inside the plastic outer shell of your hard hat, you will be able to see the specific recommendations for replacement. Regardless of whether your helmet has ever been damaged or not, you should still replace it with a new hard hat at least every 5 years. It obviously goes without saying that you should immediately replace a helmet that has been damaged, even if the damage is very minimal it can still pose a serious risk to you suffering a severe head injury if your hard hat is not up to its usual level of impact resistance. Check your hard hat regularly for damage you may not have been aware of, including inspecting the chin strap, shell, suspension system, and lining. Be thorough here: look for any signs of compromised integrity, cracks, scratches, dents, evidence of fading, or stiffness/brittleness of the materials. Never leave it unattended in a place where it could be damaged while it is out of your sight. It is also imperative to be aware of your surroundings and not expose your hard hat to any dangerous chemicals, extreme temperatures, or extended periods in the intense sunlight that could potentially weaken the plastic and reduce its strength and durability.

British Standard EN 397 Compliance and CE Approval Markings on hard hats

There will also be a stamp on either the back of the helmet or on the inside which tells you that your hard hat has been properly manufactured to British Standard (BS) EN 397 specifications, as well as being CE marked somewhere visible. British Standard EN 397 dictates that industrial safety helmets must be CE approved. For more information on how to get CE Certification for Personal Protective Equipment, check out this helpful guide to CE marking for PPE from successful international certification institution Certification Experts.

Manufacturing standards in the UK for hard hats

As far as manufacturing standards are concerned – regardless of which features the hard hat offers – all industrial safety helmets are legally required to be manufactured to BS EN 397 specifications. This is the British Standard for hard hat production quality. It includes a variety of rigorous testing procedures, including for both impact resistance and flame retardance, among other quality checks. For more information on the British Standard EN 397 specifications, take a look at this brief guide to the manufacturing standards for industrial safety helmets. For a much more in-depth unpacking of the details of the British Standard 397: 2012 (+A1:2012) for industrial safety helmets, you can read through this document published by the British Standards Institution (amended in 2013) which is currently available on the National Building Specification website.

Consequently, it is vital that construction workers in the UK only wear hard hats made and tested within the United Kingdom. Purchasing and wearing a hard hat from an overseas manufacturer could put you at a much higher risk of not only sustaining injuries due to a possibly reduced level of protective ability but also of not conforming to the British Standard (BS EN 397) of manufacturing and thus not qualifying as appropriate protective equipment.

The PPE website provides plenty of information and resources regarding all types of personal protective equipment, including this article on certification of equipment in the head protection category of PPE. It lays out an explanation of the mandatory European Legislative requirements to offer PPE Headwear. As with the British Standard EN 397, the European Norm for Helmets in General Use is also covered by EN 397 standards of manufacturing.

Distinguishing features on industrial safety helmets for specialised job functions

Certain workers may have additional stickers on their hard hats to designate that they are either a First Aider or a Fire Marshall. These stickers are specially designed with the purpose of ensuring that these qualified individuals are easily identifiable from a crowd of other construction workers. Outside of this exception, wearers should never put any kind of stickers or writing on their safety helmets, in an effort to preserve safety regulations and easy identification of the aforementioned individuals in emergency situations. It is also dangerous to make any other kinds of physical modifications to your hard hat, such as painting it a different colour which can wear down the shell of the helmet and violate the colour code that distinguishes workers based on their job function and visitors.

Drilling holes into your safety helmet for extra breathability can also be extremely dangerous as it can compromise the structural integrity of your hard hat – instead, upgrade to a safety helmet designed with built-in ventilation holes. Again, any suspension used with your safety helmet should be accessories that are specifically intended for use with your hard hat model. You should contact the manufacturer of your safety helmet to find out exactly which accessories will work with your particular industrial hard hat.

There is a wide range of colours available for hard hats manufactured and tested to the British Standard and they can each be assigned various functions and meanings on any given construction site. However, until very recently, there was no single universal coded system for this; no legislation was in place to mandate how site managers designate hard hat colours to job functions. This inconsistency from site to site meant that it was not easy to identify different kinds of workers from one another, thus lessening the efficiency of the construction team. These conflicting systems for hard hat colour designation are confusing to workers and visitors alike and could potentially pose an increased threat of accidents and other dangers. Because of this, Build UK recently implemented a new standard into their worksites to ensure competent, effective progress on building projects across the country by making site visitors and other non-team members immediately identifiable from construction workers.

Hard hat colour coding for job function on construction sites

In 2017, industry trade body Build UK – who represents some of the UK’s biggest contractors and trade associations – mandated the consolidation of safety helmet colours on its members’ sites to encourage higher standards of health and safety and employ more effective and efficient practice. While previous hard hat regulations necessitated a total of seven different colours, the new industry standards only stipulate the use of four different colours.

Raising the bar initiative

Highways England announced its involvement in this new industry-recognized colour-coded hard hat scheme for construction and maintenance contractors. You can read a brief introduction and summary of these newly enforced regulations here. Green and yellow hats have not been used on highways in the UK since the implementation of this new scheme. Highways England states the new regulation was adopted as a part of a larger health and safety initiative, dubbed the ‘Raising the Bar’ initiative. You can read the full instructions and guidance documents for Highway England’s ‘Raising the Bar’ initiative here.

Colour-coded scheme

The colour-coded scheme has been implemented on sites across the country, excluding only National Rail workers, whose sites only permit white and blue safety helmets. This distinguishes operatives by the following coloured hard hats:

  • Black: site supervisors
  • White: general use, manager, client, vehicle Marshall, competent operative – including sites on which colour coding has been deemed impractical
  • Orange: slinger, signaller
  • Blue: visitor, inexperienced person, architect, apprentice, anyone else who does not qualify for the above categories

In addition to these helmet colours, first aiders will be identified by green stickers, while fire marshals will be identified by red stickers.

Released in April 2016 and rolled out in full to all existing and new member construction sites almost a year later in January 2017, Build UK released a simple guide in the form an official Colour Coding Chart for Hard Hats. The National Building Specification also posted this discussion piece on their website in January 2017 if you care to know more about the changes put in place and what prompted them.

This article was written on behalf of The Brand Perceptionist by Alexander Ffrost. Alex is a serial entrepreneur with a passion for small business, and the creation of new stuff that no-one else has made or that beats the heck out of anything previously created. He loves starting and growing new companies in challenging sectors. Preferably with zero prior experience of the market or industry. In his spare time, Alex starts new brands and dreams of one day being Sir Alex. Or, alternatively, just designing another shirt with a “touch of Ffrost”.  To learn more about Alex and his awesome inventions, visit his website at www.alexffrost.com.