Have you ever though you might need to replace your hard hat, but are unsure of the signs?
You go to the job site day after day, each day donning your hard hat to protect you from swinging or falling objects. We learned in A Hard Hat Explained why they are an essential part of your day. But, what are the signs of that hat needing to be replaced? Some might come by surprise and some might be basic knowledge. We hope to at least provide you with a few new learned facts in this blog post.
Did you know, hard hats, just like your milk container, have an expiration date?
Yep, kinda crazy huh?! It’s just plastic, right?
No, not necessarily. The plastic and other compounds that make up a hard hat can deteriorate over time. Some faster than others depending on the environment the hard hat is in. Let’s go into more detail.
First, let’s talk about expiration dates. Okay, no you’re hard hat won’t start to disintegrate or mold-like your perishable foods. But, like medicine, it will lose its effectiveness and strength over time making it less effective in protecting your bodies main asset… the brain. This resulting in the need to replace your hard hat. Each manufacturer has its own suggested lifespan for its helmet. However, generally speaking if we take environmental factors out of the picture, your hard hat has an expiration date of 5 years. This expiration date starts on the first date of use. Furthermore, the suspension inside the hard hat needs to be replaced more regularly, every 12 months.
The date the hard hat was manufactured is stamped or molded onto the hard hat shell, typically on the underside of the brim. Similarly, the suspension will be marked with the month and year it was manufactured, along with the headband size. Remember the recommended replacement date is from the day of first use. These manufactured date labels can be used to help identify the estimated date the hard hat was first used. This will help you to avoid replacing a sound hard hat too soon whether your tracking yours alone or a whole crew.
However, you shouldn’t singularly be concerned about that expiration date. There are other reasons why you may need to replace your hard hat.
Wear & Tear
Next, moving onto the “other” reasons you may need to replace your hard hat. Depending on your jobsite environment and how well you take care of your hard hat, it is possible your hat would need to be replaced prior to the expiration date. Some hats may need replacement every 2 years.
Replace your hard hat IMMEDIATLEY if:
- Visible signs of hard hat damage, such as cracks, dents, or holes.
- If it’s been impacted or penetrated.
- Frayed, ripped, or damaged stitching suspension straps. Remove the webbing and replace it with a new suspension assembly.
IMPORTANT NOTE: When replacing the suspension, use only those made by the original manufacturer specifically for that model and size. Hard hats are designed, tested and certified with the manufacturers suspension installed. Meaning they are approved as a system. Incorrect parts and accessories or those made from another source render the certification null and void. Additionally, an incorrect headband and web could reduce or eliminate the amount of impact protection. The impact space might not be adequate causing you more harm than good!
Replace your hard hat SOON if:
- Scuffs or scratches on the surface weaken the hat by thinning the shell.
- Fading, normally seen in fiberglass or plastic shells, is a sign that sunlight or UV rays have started weakening the shell. UV light is actually a hard harts worst enemy! It is very important that a hard hat is not left in the window of a vehicle or anywhere that sunlight is directly exposed as it will significantly weaken the materials. This wear will look chalky, visible brittle/inflexible surface or discoloration. For workers that are exposed to the sunlight for prolonged periods it is recommended to replace your hard hat more frequently.
- Extended exposure to harsh chemicals or other severe conditions break down the shell material, producing brittleness. Your hard hat will show fading or discoloration. Furthermore, chemicals can damage the suspension, too.
Flex the brim of your hard hat to determine if it has become brittle and hard, or if it still has some flex. If it is brittle or inflexible you should be looking to replace your hard hat. We recommend checking it against the flex of a new hard hat for an accurate gauge/feel.
A general rule of thumb is if the user environment is known to include higher exposure to temperature extremes, sunlight, or chemicals, hard hats should be replaced routinely after two years of use. (EHS Safety News America)
Inside the Hard Hat Matters Too!
Hard hats are equipped with suspension on the inside which is there to help absorb some of the shock from a hit or falling object. The inside suspension is just as important of a piece to the hard hat as the outer shell is. With that being said, it is important that you inspect your hard hat suspension system regularly. Unfortunately this is a step that is overlooked all too often.
When inspecting the suspension you should be looking closely for cracks or tears, frayed or cut straps, loss of pliability, or other signs of wear. Whether your hard hat has a 4-point or 6-point suspension (the number of keys that are engaged in the hard hat’s shell), all keys should fit tightly and securely into their respective key slots. Any hard hats with suspension that shows signs of damage should not be used and replaced immediately to ensure ongoing protection of the wearer.
Learn more about suspension systems in A Hard Hat Explained.
Hard Hat Care
Your hard hat as well as it’s suspension system inside see a lot of dirt, grime, sweat & oil. Therefore, it should be cleaned properly so all those elements don’t work together to weaken the durability. You should regularly clean your hard hat with an approved cleaner or use what you have at home; a mild, nondetergent soap and warm water are recommended.
No harsh chemicals or abrasives should be used. Oil-based solvents will deteriorate the shell, so don’t use gasoline or similar products to remove tar, grease and other sticky contaminants. Do NOT use scrapers, knives, or other abrasive tools to remove debris. Harsh solvents or abrasives can degrade the shell’s plastic, reducing the integrity of the shell.
ALTERATION AND CUSTOMIZATION
Most hard hats shouldn’t be painted or marked with permanent marker as the solvents in paint/marker can weaken the plastic. Feel free to express yourself with stickers, just make sure they don’t cover damage and are located at least ½” away from the edges of the hard hat. Another note that might go without saying, but never alter, puncture, modify or engrave the shell or suspension of a hard hat.
Hard Hats are plastic, why do I need to replace it?
Like I mentioned above, that plastic material can weaken over time from UV rays, scuffs and natural deterioration. The cost of replacing a helmet outweighs the cost of an accident while wearing a faulty helmet.
Put yourself in this scary situation:
“An individual was working on a slurry wall panel installation. The crew had just finished hoisting a re-bar panel to vertical, when a 10″ cut-off piece of #12 re-bar fell 90 feet from the top of the panel, and stuck the employee directly on the top of his hard hat. You can see the obvious big hole in the attached photo in his hard hat.
Due to his wearing the hard hat, the employee only suffered a bad lesion on his head, requiring a few stitches and staples, and a concussion. We all can conjure up some images in our own minds of what “could have been” the story, had his hard hat not absorbed most of the impact.”
(photo and post by Ed Davidson)
Can you imagine what would have happened if he was wearing an expired or weakened helmet?
Let’s not. Instead let’s be prepared for the unexpected.
Thank goodness he was okay and the hard hat did it’s job! Falling objects don’t always give you grace at hitting you straight on; the new MIPS helmet gives added protection with those rotational hits and falls.
Learn more about the new MIPS helmets taking over not only our industry but the sports world too.
In conclusion, the hesitation regarding the SPEND of new hard hats should not be worth the risk of risking the safety of your crew. Make the minimal (in comparison) investment of replacing your hard hats as necessary. Ensure you and your crew all go home safely tonight!
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