Considering the Switch to Safety Helmets

Should My Organization Adopt Safety Helmets in Place of Hard Hats?

As of December 2023, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has announced that its own employees will transition from traditional hard hats to a “safety helmet” as the standard for personal protective equipment while on the job. The announcement, here, cites statistics on the prevalence of job site head injuries. Approximately six percent of “non-fatal occupational injuries involving days away from work” in the United States are head injuries. These can involve objects dropped from above as well as falls suffered while in a work area. Presumably, some of these injuries can be avoided or their impact minimized by the use of enhanced PPE.


The Cost-Benefit for Helmets

Given that the national authority on workplace safety has announced its head protection swap, it would be wise to consider whether safety helmets are the right choice for your personal use and that of your employees. Of course, helmets provide distinct benefits over hard hats, but do those benefits justify any additional cost or limitations?

The first advantage that OSHA attributes to helmets is the material used to produce them. Helmets come in a variety of materials which are often chosen for their specific use. For example, safety (and rescue) helmets can be made from fiberglass, composites, and more advanced plastics such as ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene). Hard hats are most typically made from hard plastics such as HDPE. According to OSHA, these materials may be more resistant to impact and also lighter, making them easier to wear and reducing strain on the wearer. Safety helmets also provide chin straps, which are an added level of protection against slips and falls. As 20% of time lost head injuries nationwide were the result of a fall, having head protection that is strapped on is certainly a potential injury saver. Finally, safety helmets can often offer attachment points for accessories such as face shields, goggles, hearing protection, etc.

Hard hats will probably always play some role in the safety environment. They are cheap (sometimes as little as $10-20 while the cost of helmets varies but is usually much higher) and readily available, however many groups should consider the change to a helmet when the time is right. This includes, but is not limited to, construction workers, oil and gas workers, and anyone who works at heights or has particular risks for slips and falls. Many employers, such as OSHA, may take an all-hazards approach and select helmets for their improved safety and flexibility across work environments.

More Information:

OSHA Bulletin