I used to have a Scene Commander in HazMat. It used to make him insane whenever someone (presumably me) would stomp through puddles (in Texas its sometimes very hard NOT to). Keep in mind, I would only do this when we were far removed of the actual scene; most of the time, I would do it in the parking lot of the restaurant or hotel we happened to be staying at. Still, it made him nuts. "If you do it here...you'll do it onscene!" He was right, what I was doing is creating a non-nonchalant attitude toward cross contamination, a habit and a horrid one at that.
So much of what we do in hazardous atmospheres is habit. What happens is truly human. Our brains look for ways to file information so that its second nature and seemingly menial tasks are completed without much, if any, thought. This process applies whether you are a 'Mud and Rock Guy', Carpenter, Slurry Operator, Firefighter, or HazMat Responder. We have tons of information in our heads that must stay easily accessible at all times just to preform our jobs effectively. So sometimes its not shocking that what seems like a pain in the neck gets overlooked or worse, is the primary reason for work related injury.
So, the general consensus when it comes to hard hats (full brim or other) is a replacement every five (5) years and a suspension replacement every year (or when you just cant live with the 'funk' anymore, whichever comes first). This can get pricey though! Particularly when you have your 'brain bucket' just the way you want it and the perfect personality stickers have been applied over time, am I right? Of course! Worry not, my friends. There are things we can do to extend the life of skull cap, without lowering effectiveness or integrity.
The following recommendations are in accordance with MSA, 3M, ANSI/OSHA Standards Z89 1-2009 and 1910.135 respectively:
- Once a month visual inspection of PPE/Hard hat, head protection gear. This is to include looking for any and all cracks, abrasions, marks indicating impact with other objects, scratches, divits, marks which have breeched the surface of the equipment. If any of the above have impaired the structural integrity of the dome or brim, IT MUST BE REPLACED.
- Exposure: When a working atmosphere requires the use of any respiratory protective devise such as: N-95, Half face or full face respirator; the mere fact that you are using this equipment implies that residues, contact exposures, and particulate matter can and will infiltrate your hard hat. When this occurs, if you are aware of the exposure, contact your Supervisor, Response Team, H&S Office, or your hard hats manufacturer to ascertain the severity and steps you can take to remedy the issue. Nine times out of ten, you'll be disposing of that particular piece of gear.
- Wash down: With the scary stuff out of the way, do yourself a favor, once a month, run your hard hat through a wash down. It is by far, the first line of defense against so many harmful and injurious situations. Lets keep in mind, this hard hat when donned properly, rests a mere inch away from THE SINGLE MOST VULNERABLE PATHWAY FOR INFECTION ON YOUR BODY, your eyes!
- Lip of the brim: While using a garden hose or whatever water supply is available to you, pay close attention to the lip of the brim. Yes, that tiny lip that was designed to help keep rain out of your eyes is the perfect hiding place for residues and particulate that are just waiting for a chance to turn a Monday into a trip to Urgent Care or worse. Should you see a build up, even if you don't; wipe the rim with your least favorite rag until you see it reduced or even gone. Run the length of the groves over the top, and rise the entire helmet under the water. THROW THE RAG AWAY. We laugh, but its not uncommon to have a worker who just wiped down something particularly nasty pick the same rag up and wipe the sweat off of his/her face. It happens. NOTE: While there is still quite a bit of debate over this, in my opinion water by itself is very effective. For years manufacturers have hotly debated what soaps, cleansers, agents will or won't damage the coating of their helmets. What I can tell you from experience is water is very effective, and for the most part the average Joe like me has little time to determine if whatever residue will react with any particular cleanser. Take a look at the pictures below. Nothing to it.
- Finally. This the most overlooked issue that comes up with Head Protective PPE (helmets). SUN EXPOSURE. One of the benefits of working the jobs we do is the fact that we are predominately outside in the sun and all the elements that go with it. More importantly when we are off work, how many of us toss our helmet in the bed of the truck, hang it from the coat hook, put it up on the dash? While these things are all acceptable, they are not without risk. Sun exposure in the most common damage done to helmets. More than impacts, scrapes, melting, and chemical exposure. All helmets have a 'gloss-like' coating applied to them in the manufacturing process. If your hard hat has lost its glossy, almost shiny appearance after you've done some cleaning, IT IS TIME TO RETIRE it. No 'if, ands, or buts'. That protective coating is by far the most important element of your hard hat. Without it, any chemical, residue, infectious spore can and will absorb into your helmet and ultimately, you.
So there you have it. Five steps to a safer head! We will visit boots next so stay tuned! Always remember that you are only as safe as YOU are. At the end of the day you are responsible for going home in the same shape you came to work in. DC&P remains committed to the safety, education, and survival of our readers. Call or email us anytime with questions, concerns, or clarification of anything we write about. We are always here to help!