Head start

21 January 2020

According to RIDDOR statistics, being struck on the head by moving, flying or falling objects accounted for 13% of worker deaths from 2014-19, and 10% of non-fatal injuries in 20191. Taking this into account, head protection is essential, and there are many factors to consider when it comes to choosing and specifying hard hats. Here, Mackenzie Peters takes a look two major aspects – hard had customisation and the risks of economy priced PPE.

DIRECTIVE 89/686/EEC, introduced in 1989, aimed to ensure the free movement of personal protective equipment (PPE) within the EU by completely harmonising the essential safety requirements to which it must conform. In 2016, this was updated to Regulation (EU) 2016/425. This regulation of safety standards across the EU will have no doubt prevented countless severe head injuries and even deaths.

2016 statistics from Eurostat, however, reported that 4,409 people across the European Union’s 28 member states were incapacitated long-term due to head injuries at work. The statistics are sobering, which is why any development or product innovation that contributes to better head protection products and compliance can only be positive.

Especially so for those that work in the construction industry as construction work can be a particularly high-risk activity. Accidents can occur and head injuries are, unfortunately, a relatively frequent occurrence. They can occur due to a variety of reasons, including falling objects; striking fixed objects, such as unprotected ends of scaffolding poles or other projections; or from restricted headroom.

Colour-coded safety 

In the UK, in a bid to make construction sites safer, Build UK – the leading representative organisation for the UK construction industry – has developed a harmonised hard hat colour standard for contractors. This was an important step. Colour-coding helps to improve safety by providing consistency in identifying people’s roles on site. Different experience levels, or visitors, are also easier to distinguish. On a construction site with dozens, or even hundreds, of workers, hard hat customisation is absolutely necessary.

Customisation, including the printing of companies’ logos, doesn’t just help site managers differentiate workers’ varying roles and responsibilities; it’s also an invaluable marketing tool, enabling smaller and bigger companies alike to stand out from the crowd in an increasingly competitive industry. Customisation can also help to unify workforces and foster a greater sense of collective teamwork and pride.

Managing multiple sub-contractors on a busy, multi-faceted project can be challenging and it’s important to remember that sub-contractors may be relative strangers to the workplace and therefore unfamiliar with an organisation’s procedures and rules. Customised hard hats provide a useful reminder of who’s who and what workers’ positions and responsibilities are. In addition, personalisation can also increase the value of a worker’s safety equipment, thus increasing the likelihood that, first and foremost, it will be worn, but also well looked after. 

Other more fundamental safety features can also be added on, including retro-reflective stickers that enhance the visibility and safety of workers, day and night, and the promotion of potentially life-saving safety messages and reminders. The inclusion of badge holders to hard hats can also add another layer of identification and safety.

The value of safety 

Everybody loves a bargain, yet no discount is worth putting workers at risk. With PPE, there’s a monumental difference between buying cheaper hard hats and face protection and investing in high-quality helmets and complete above the neck safety solutions. Purchasing head, eye, face, and hearing protection (HEFH) from a value-added safety partner lets you maximise your PPE budget. That means you get a better, more consistent return on the money you spend. MSA has developed thousands of products, owns hundreds of patents, and has a global reach in the millions—all to keep in motion the mission of worker safety that started more than 100 years ago. In our experience, we know that by investing in top quality PPE, can help you actually achieve a long-term saving of between 20 and 80%.

So, what does this mean for you? 

Look at the total value of your purchase instead of only the per-item cost. You’ll realise the money you invest can pay you back in ways that spending on discount hard hats never could. Ultimately, you should be looking for head protection that is: 

  • Purpose-built for the type of work

  • Tested to perform in some of the toughest of environment imaginable

  • Engineered for increased service life

  • Designed to meet strict safety, function, durability, and usability criteria

Purchasing checklist 

Even if you factor in the initial savings provided through bargain brand PPE, it may in fact equate to larger and potentially extreme costs over the life of the hard hat. Use this pre-purchase checklist when selecting your PPE.

  • Examine the quality: Look for precision engineering and high-quality safety products that help people work safely in whatever environment they face. Quality materials and construction mean better durability and a longer wear life. 

  • What is it tested to? There are a whole host of directives and legislations for head protection – make sure the equipment you choose is tested to perform in the specific environment you need it to. 

  • Will workers wear it? If it’s not comfortable, workers will find an excuse not to wear it. That’s unsafe and not compliant and could lead to serious injuries. Features like an adjustable nape strap for increased balance and stability, flush suspension tabs to help eliminate compression headaches, integrated perforated sweatband for added cushioning and sweat management, nape strap cushioning to increase airflow, retention and prevent hair pulling, all contribute hugely to the comfort factor.

  • Look at type and sizing options: One size doesn’t fit all. Make sure you get the right fit and take into consideration the factors that matter – is the wearer a man or a woman, how weave webbing can reduce pressure and again add to the all-important comfort issue. 

  • Check the performance rating: Every application is different, so every piece of safety equipment must be, too. Whether it’s welding, grinding, cutting, or operating heavy machinery, you need a range of solutions that helps you protect the worker for the job at hand.

  • Determine the ‘cool’ factor: Today’s workers want to look as good as they feel in their PPE. Consider the finish and personalisation that will switch workers on and make them proud to wear a hard hat. 

  • Look under the proverbial hood: PPE needs to work, and it needs to last, even in tough environments. UV inhibitors in our colourant are designed for and tested against some of the harshest environments, for five years of outstanding performance.

  • Extras: Alone, a hard hat is good, including accessories for the job at hand, even better. Choose accessories designed to work with the hard hat – you’ll then be sure of the best result.

No excuse

Hard hats have come a long way since 1989. Product innovation and technological advancements mean that quality manufacturers provide hard hats that are comfortable, lightweight and durable against the harshest applications. There’s no excuse not to wear them. And remember, it’s not just about protecting heads; it’s about saving lives. And you can’t put a price on that.

Mackenzie Peters is Global Product Group Manager, Industrial HEFH at MSA Safety. For more information, visit