Don’t Be Hard-headed
When it comes to personal safety, use your brain. Wear your hard hat.
Hard hats are bulky, hot, tight, and uncomfortable, and often are just one more thing to remember when you are rushing to work. Some miners may try to rationalize not wearing appropriate headgear by pointing to its limitations – if a blow is strong enough, a hard hat may not help. Statistics indicate, however, that hard hats do protect workers from many injuries and save lives.
A Bureau of Labor Statistics survey of accidents and injuries unveils that most workers who sustain head injuries do not wear head protection. Most are injured while performing their normal jobs at their regular work sites, where they are not required by their employers to wear hard hats.
The mining industry encompasses work of all types that involves risks of head injuries. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) requires hard hats for these work categories. Headgear is intended to provide limited protection from impact and penetration from falling objects. It should be constructed in a way to be effective in preventing injury from small falling objects – whether tools or rocks. It also should be designed to provide impact protection for the sides of the head and from electrical shock hazards. Even minor head injuries can cause loss of brain function and lead to comas, disabilities, and even death.
The modern hard hat
Workers in the construction industry began wearing hard hats almost 80 years ago, around World War I. The first “Hard-Boiled Hat,” patented in the United States in 1919 by E. D. Bullard Co., was made of steamed layers of glued canvas that were then hardboiled and painted black. Not long after developing the hard shell, Bullard also developed an internal suspension system for added protection and hard hat history unfolds.
Canvas hats were replaced by aluminum ones in 1939 for all but electrical work, and, in the 1940s, fiberglass hats became the rage. They were easier to manufacture as well as lighter in weight and more protective. In the 1950s, thermoplastics were discovered as a suitable material for hard hats. They were even easier to mold and shape. Today, most hard hats are made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE), but some workers, especially those who buy their own equipment, prefer brown fiberglass hard hats, which balance well on the head and are resistant to scrapes and stains. Other characteristics of the modern hard hat include the following:
- It has a rigid shell to deflect blows to the head;
- It has a suspension system inside that spreads the helmet’s weight over the top of the head acting like a shock absorber, cushioning the blow;
- It may serve as an insulator against electric shocks;
- It shields scalp, face, neck, and shoulders against splashes, spills, and drips; and
- It may be fitted with a visor, ear protector, mirror, light, and chin strap for additional protection.
Under government regulations (30 CFR56/57.15002), employers – who are responsible for managing workplace health and safety – must require that workers wear hard hats when their work involves certain hazards, including the following:
- Being struck on the head by a falling object;
- Striking against fixed or protruding objects; and
- Being exposed to electrical conductors.
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