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Hard Hat Safety – It Looks New, But Is It Safe?

- December 28, 2018 by Leslie Stoll, CSP, ARM (View all posts by Leslie)

When I’m on a job site, I often talk to the foreman about how he obtains replacement equipment in the event he finds damage during a daily inspection. I’m looking to make sure they have a plan in place to keep employees safe — thankfully, most do. But, when I ask how old their hard hat is and if it’s still safe to use, all too often I get one of these two responses:

“It looks brand new, so it’s still good” or
What? They go bad?!

Yes, hard hats expire!

Hard hats have a date of manufacture imprinted on the inside rim of the hat. It looks very similar to this picture. It is a circle with an arrow in it. The arrow points to the month, and the number in the center is the year. This pink hardhat was manufactured in September 2006 making it 13 years old in September 2019.

So, is my pink hard hat safe to wear? The OSHA rules on hard hat expiration are based on the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) guidelines for personal protection equipment. ANSI advises referring to the manufacturer’s instructions regarding service life guidelines for your particular hard hat. The final answer is — most manufacturers indicate that replacement of hard hats is recommended after four to five years of use regardless of their physical appearance. In our case, the hard hat is more than 10 years old and definitely should be replaced. The cost of replacement is insignificant compared to the cost of the injury.

Ultimately, it could be the manufacturer at fault if the hard hat failed, so they are going to play it safe. In a quick internet search, I found that some hard hat manufacturers are only providing their warranty for 2 years past the date of manufacture. This is not the date a hat was taken off the shelf or out of the box and put into use! Since many companies buy from suppliers, your employees are not likely going to be wearing a hat that is only a few days old.

The manufacturer guidelines always provide the bottom line with one significant exception:

Ultraviolet radiation (sunshine) degrades the plastic much faster than normal wear, and, therefore, some hard hats may need to be replaced every two years.

So, how do you know if your employee’s hard hat is safe to wear? It’s more than just a stamped on the date of manufacture. The useful life of a hard hat doesn’t start until it’s put into service assuming storage conditions before use were appropriate (i.e., not in direct sunlight, excessive heat, exposure to chemicals, etc.). You can write the “in-service” date on the inside of each hard hat, but that’s likely to wear off. A better option is to use the stamped date as a guide but require employees to inspect their hard hats regularly.

Here are some things to look for:

  • Look for signs of damage such as dents, gouges, scrapes, holes or cracks.
  • Look at the shell to see if it’s faded or chalky looking — these are signs of aging.
  • If you drop it on a hard surface or receive a blow to the head, inspect it carefully before continuing to use it. You’re better off replacing your hard hat than using one that will not protect you.
  • The suspension is the part of the hard hat that actually absorbs the impact, and it needs to be routinely checked for wear. If you see fraying, cuts or tears, or dirt—it needs to be replaced. When replacing the suspension, use a product from the same company that manufactured your hard hat.
  • Employees can also test their hats with the “crackle test or snap test.” Hold the hardhat upside down and squeeze the sides together gently. If you hear a crackle or a snap, then it is time to replace the hard hat. Please wear safety glasses when conducting this test just in case!
  • The hat’s webbing or suspension is another issue. The webbing or suspension is subject to perspiration and suffers the most wear. This should be replaced every 12 months.

A best practice to replace the entire hard hat annually to be safe. When it comes to PPE — looks can be deceiving!