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Heads up on protection

11 December 2019

HSM's latest webinar saw Jim Cliff, Alan Murray and Richard Cunningham come together to give an insight into head protection.

HEAD PROTECTION is vitally important when it comes to protecting workers operating in potentially hazardous or dangerous conditions. From construction sites, to oil rigs and refineries, to water treatment plants, head protection is a key part of sending your crew home safely at the end of every working day.

Head injuries can take place even on well-run construction sites. Falling objects and electrical shocks can do significant damage if the worker isn’t wearing their hard hat or the worker is wearing a hard hat not suited to the work environment.

Head protection has evolved over the years and there are many factors that have been part of head protection improvements, including:

  • introduction of the Directive 89/686/EEC in 1989, and later Regulation (EU) 2016/425

  • introduction of standards like the EN397 industrial safety helmets standard

  • manufacturers /improved technologies

Despite these ongoing developments Eurostat reported that in 2016 some 254 people were incapacitated long-term due to head injuries at work in the UK - 39 tragically died.

Compulsory protection

Although head protection has been around since the late 1800s, it was only during the building of the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge that workers were made to wear hard hats. Since then, there have been many developments in the manufacturing of hard hats, including material used, shape and style.

Hard hats can be the most neglected of all PPE and they are often mistreated on construction sites, thrown in the back of a vehicle or left in direct sunlight on the windshield. All these things can have a negative impact on performance. There are still many workers that opt not to wear their head protection, despite knowing the risks. Workers would not be expected to wear shoes that don't fit, and the same is true of head protection

Jim Cliff from MSA explained some of the reason’s workers fail to put on their head protection. “Workers may feel their helmet is a constraint or an inconvenience at work. Research has shown that comfort is the top priority for workers who wear hard hats – wearing one for eight hours a day or more can be a challenge when the hat is not comfortable.”

One of the main complaints MSA hears from helmet users is that they are too heavy, but lightweight helmets available on the market at cheaper prices are not comfortable at all. The main factor of comfort of a hard hat is not the weight of the shell, it is the hard hat suspension. MSA recommends you should always favour suspension made of fabric as this enables the helmet to be balanced on the head and adjusted to a perfect fit. 

MSA recommends you should always favour textile-based suspension which provides a better comfort, enables adjustment for a perfect fit and offer more durable performance than plastic based suspension. 

Jim says, “In the construction industry for example, workers are often male. But there is an increasing number of women in the UK industry – currently 13% and rising. All workers deserve the same level of comfort. Opting for a helmet with a suspension offering large size range and enabling many adjustments so that each worker gets the maximum comfort will be important.

“Worker comfort is an ongoing concern for safety managers whose workers are on the front line, dealing directly with situations where they can be hurt or even killed.

“Improved comfort covers many things - great fit, balance, easy adjustment, ventilation when relevant, sweatbands and accessories. When all these factors are done right, a worker is happy to wear his or her head protection and keep it on all day, leaving them free to concentrate on the job in hand.”

Style is key

Operators who have unsightly or unfashionable hard hats forced on them may opt to not wear it. It has been found that a stylish helmet is better cared for by workers and will have a longer life.

Customisation is also becoming increasingly important, particularly in the UK where companies wish to identify roles, levels or experience and responsibilities on site.

Jim adds, “Branding your hard hat has many advantages beyond helping to identify who is who. It helps to unify workers with a sense of teamwork and pride, and that encourages them to take better care of their helmets.

Quality is key. Jim advises that you should make sure that your hard hat manufacturer uses premium materials and manufacturing processes to provide best-in-class resistance, durability and maximum comfort. This applies to hard hats but also to their accessories, including logo printing capabilities.

He says, “Working with a hard hat manufacturer who has its own internal accredited laboratory performing daily testing to ensure continuous quality, is an additional benefit.

“On top of this, all industrial hard hats sold in the UK are EN 397 approved. However, it should be remembered that there is a wide range of optional tests as part of EN 397 including: molten metal, electrical insulation, very low temperature or lateral deformation – this means that not all hard hats conforming to EN 397 are suitable for all environment and applications. It is critical that the hard hat you use is tested for the appropriate purpose.”

Using the right helmet for the right application is crucial, and the webinar provided many examples of what you need when, so make sure you listen on demand.

Standards and legislation

Alan Murray's contribution to the webinar looked at standards and legislation. The British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF) is the UK's trade body for the safety industry and has been so for 25 years.

Alan said, “The entire safety industry is premised on EU standards for both the manufacture and us of products. It was the PPE Directive, which was replaced with the PPE Regulation, which officially came into force in 2018. There is a difference between a Directive and a Regulation. Directives must be adjusted into and written into local/national law. When a Regulation is launched in the EU it becomes THE law from the day it becomes applicable.

“Brexit clearly has the potential to impact this, especially in the event of a no-deal Brexit. In this event, CE Marking will be replaced by a government scheme called UKCA (United Kingdom Conformity Assessment).”

The Regulation did not change much in terms of the products, but there are important issues that apply to the marketplace.

Alan gives an example of this. “There is now a limitation of five years on a CE product approval. Previously, once something had been type tested, that CE approval could live without limit of time.

“There are clear new obligations on importers and distributors of PPE, and that is there to ensure that the products comply, and crucially to perform as they claim. PPE is the last line of defence, so it is vital that they perform.”

There are many different standards across PPE – more than 200 in fact. Alan provided an insight into the standards relating to head protection in the webinar, as well as a few fines that have been issued to companies as their products have not performed as claimed.

Head protection in action

Richard Cunningham from Worley – a global provider of professional project and asset services in the energy, chemicals and resources sectors – joined the webinar to share his experience of safety and head protection. 

He said, “The most important thing for us is that the helmet must conform to EN 397. I'm responsible for PPE with Worley, and for head protection the helmet must be comfortable. If there is a shutdown offshore, our personnel could be wearing their helmet for up to 14 hours.”

Worley Parsons uses a colour-coded hard hat system to show the level of their employees. “New starters in the industry will wear a green hard hat, so that distinguishes who's new to the industry. When they go offshore, they wear the green hat for their first three trips. After that they will move to wearing a white hat, to show that they are competent.

“With 60,000 personnel working for us, we also wanted to distinguish people that had not been on a particular platform before or been there for 12 months. So, a few years ago we did a campaign that was sponsored by MSA and came up with a logo that we could emboss on a hard hat so that could tell us straight away that personnel are brand new to the industry.”

As well as ensuring that the head protection is comfortable, Richard highlights the importance of attachment points. “An innovative technology that came out of a recent PPE form, which Jim kindly visited, is a four-point chin strap that is fixed directly to the helmet’s suspension (and not to the shell), and I think it's a wonderful idea. Thanks to this innovation that makes the chinstrap attachment safe and quick, we can easily retrofit to our existing fleet of V-Gard hard hats. Working offshore in harsh conditions, personnel will sometimes not use their chin straps, but with this it has to be worn.”

The webinar finished with a live question and answer session, which you can listen to when you watch the webinar on demand.

Jim Cliff is UK product Sales Manager (Industry) at MSA Safety, Alan Murray is CEO of BSIF, and Richard Cunningham is from Worley Parsons.

To listen to this webinar on demand, please visit https://events.streamgo.co.uk/maximum-benefits-of-head-protection