How to Choose a Safety Helmet for Your Jobsite Demands

An effective preventive measure for avoiding head injuries on construction sites is to buy a safety helmet that closely matches your activities on the jobsite, working environment and personal preferences, such as fit and accessories. There are many factors involved in the buying process. Below are five critical aspects of choosing a safety helmet for construction.

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The iconic yellow hard hat has served as a symbol for construction safety around the globe for decades! This is largely due to the dangerous nature of construction work and its increased risks of head injury.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the construction industry holds the greatest number of fatal and non-fatal traumatic brain injuries in the workplace. Workers in small construction companies are at a greater risk of experiencing head injuries, compared to large construction companies.

An effective preventive measure for avoiding head injuries on construction sites is to buy a safety helmet that closely matches your activities on the jobsite, working environment and personal preferences, such as fit and accessories. There are many factors involved in the buying process. Below are five critical aspects of choosing a safety helmet for construction. 

1. Type 1 or Type 2

One of the first steps in choosing a safety helmet for construction is choosing between a Type 1 and a Type 2 helmet. Type 1 safety helmets are designed to protect the wearer’s head from impact from above. They are not designed to protect the wearer from lateral impacts. On the other hand, a Type 2 safety helmet is designed to protect the wearer’s head from impact from above, the front, the back and sides.

Type 2 safety helmets provide more protection for workers. This type of safety gear offers protection from rotational head impacts. Something to consider is the range of hazards safety helmets are designed for. Most people only consider falling objects when they think about head protection on construction sites. In addition to falling objects, individuals are also at risk of slipping on oily or watery surfaces, tripping on objects (such as power cords, stairways or uneven surfaces) and losing balance while carrying loads.

“The problem is that conventional industrial safety helmets most often protect against injuries such as skull fractures, but do not reduce rotational motion to a sufficient level. Our brain is about six to seven times more susceptible to rotational motion than to linear impacts,” explained Max Strandwitz, CEO of MIPs.

These scenarios can all lead to head injuries, should one hit their head on a hard surface. If your construction job is prone to encountering these hazards, be sure to choose a Type 2 helmet. This is because in these scenarios, you need protection on the front, the back and sides of the head. As mentioned above, Type 1 safety helmets do not cover these areas.

Most construction work requiring lifting, operating tools and pacing across various parts of the jobsite (such as site inspectors and supervisors) will require a Type 2 safety helmet. Type 1 safety helmets are suitable for light construction work with minimal hazards. For example, crane and mining truck operators, wherein the individual is protected by a heavy-duty cab and works in a sitting position could consider using a Type 1 hard hat.

In some cases, the decision in choosing between using a Type 1 or Type 2 safety helmet on the jobsite is made by the site or project manager. These days, most safety helmets are made from fiberglass or polyethylene. Material is rarely a deciding factor for hard hats.

Learn about how safety helmets mitigate different types of head impacts in this IRONPROS articleWaveCel Part 2: T2+ Pro Safety Helmet Product Deep Dive

2. Classifications and Safety Compliance

Safety helmets manufactured and used in the U.S. should comply with ANSI/ISEA Z98.1 standard. It doesn’t matter how fancy or durable the product is; construction professionals should prioritize this rating when buying a hard hat that will be used on the jobsite.

These standards must be followed by construction companies, requiring workers to wear safety helmets that have this rating. Going beyond compliance, hard hats that adhere to ANSI/ISEA Z98.1 are manufactured and tested to withstand hazardous working environments, such as high temperatures. This provides peace of mind for construction professionals, ensuring a quality product truly made for their line of work.

ANSI/ISEA Z98.1 is the general standard for construction hard hats. There are other classifications that are applicable to specific jobs on the worksite.

These classifications include:

  • Class C: Class C rated safety helmets are recommended for general construction work and do not offer protection from electrical hazards. Do not use this type of hard hat for electrical work.
  • Class E: Class E rated hard hats are for utility or electrical work. These safety helmets can withstand up to 20,000 volts of high voltage, as well as hard impacts. You don’t really need this type of protection for general construction work or heavy machinery.
  • Class G: Class G rated safety helmets are rated up to 2,200 volts, making the products ideal for working around low voltage conductors (low voltage in this context does not refer to DC, such 12V or 24V DC).

Safety helmet classifications and ratings are specifically reserved for and applicable to the hard hat. These standards do not extend to any accessories of the product, unless stated. For example, LED headlamps, sensors or recording devices that attach to hard hats may not offer the same level of impact protection or electrical protection. It is important to ensure that any accessories that you intend to use on the jobsite are properly rated for construction work.

3. Color

Traditional hard hats are safety yellow. This is the type of protective equipment most people are familiar with. These days, safety helmets are offered in a wide range of colors, such as neon green, white, bright orange, black, dark green and more.

The safest color for safety helmets is yellow, neon green or bright orange. These colors are highly reflective, allowing you to be seen easily around the jobsite and in low-light conditions. If your construction job requires you to work at night, you should go with one of these reflective colors.

Black safety helmets are really for construction vehicle operators or indoor construction work. This color easily traps heat, making them unsuitable for outdoor jobsites during the summer. If heat is a concern, consider looking for a ventilated safety helmet. Logically, you shouldn’t wear a black hard hat at night for safety reasons.

4. Full Brim or Cap Style

There are two styles available for construction hard hats: full brim and cap. A full brim hard hat is a type of hard hat that has a brim, extending around the entire hat. This type of hard hat provides more protection from the sun, rain and other elements than a traditional hard hat with a short or clipped brim.

Full brim hard hats are often used in industries where there is a risk of falling objects, as the brim can help deflect objects away from the face and neck. In addition to falling objects, the additional brim offers protection from sunlight and rain. This can be beneficial for outdoor construction work.

A cap style hard hat is a type of hard hat that has a small brim in the front, like a baseball cap. The brim does not go all the way around. This results in slightly less protection from falling objects and weather-related elements.

However, this style does offer increased visibility on the jobsite compared to a full brim safety helmet.

Heavy machinery or vehicle operators are more inclined to use cap style safety helmets, as it can make seeing the surrounding environment easier.

Check out top recommendations for ANSI Z98.1 rated construction helmets on IRONPROS with the article: Top 5 Construction Helmets for Head Protection and Safety

5. Specialty and Accessories

Most safety helmets come with a chinstrap or neckband for securing the hard hat to the head. This is standard and sufficient for general construction work. Foam inserts for additional padding inside the helmet and reflective strips on the exterior are also common accessories. Safety helmets can also be designed for specific professions or jobs on construction sites. These hard hats are equipped with additional features that address the hazards or dangers of the work. For example, forestry helmets may come equipped with a visor and provisions for securing earmuffs. Attachable sunshades around the helmet provide UV protection during the summer. Mining hard hats may have built-in LED lights or provisions for mounting headlamps.

For complete protection on the jobsite, hard hats must be worn with other safety gear. High-visibility vests, boots, harnesses and safety glasses address other hazards on the jobsite that helmets cannot.

Safety Helmet Lifespan and Maintenance

A quality, reliable safety helmet can cost between $38 and $200+. According to data from the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, hard hats should be replaced every five years. For rugged use, helmets may need to be replaced every two years. Suspension components should be replaced every 12 months.

In the event the safety helmet shows signs of damage before the manufacturer’s expiration date (if any), it must be proactively replaced in a timely manner. Equipment used by many workers on a continuous basis increases its usage in the field. This can cause equipment, in this case safety helmets, to degrade at a faster rate.

Maintenance is an important part of owning a safety helmet, especially if you rely on it daily for head protection at the jobsite. Maintaining a safety helmet starts with routine inspections. Upon leaving the jobsite, check the surface for any dents, cracks, chips and discoloration. Next, lightly pull on the straps and check the points of contact between the strap and helmet to make sure the connection is secure. Loose or missing components are signs that the hard hat is losing its durability and could be nearing the end of its lifespan.

Clean the helmet with warm water and soap when it gets dirty. This is a frequently overlooked step that can lead to damage, as debris has a mild corrosive effect on straps, clips and locks. After inspection and cleaning, store the helmet in a bag, box or indoor area (controlled environment).


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