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      • Published 28 Jun 2023
      • Last Modified 29 Aug 2023
    • 8 min

    A Guide to Hard Hats and Safety Helmets

    Many jobs require safety helmets to protect your head and eyes from serious injuries. We clarify which protective helmet is right for which application and give useful buying tips.

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    Optimal head protection is a vital part of personal protective equipment (PPE) and ensures maximum safety when working on construction sites and in industrial environments. In less hazardous environments, head protection in the form of a protective cap may be sufficient to ensure worker safety. In many industries, however, wearing a safety helmet is mandatory.

    Depending on the type, protective helmets protect against falling objects, lateral shocks in a fall, or thermal and electrical hazards. A basic distinction is made between simple construction hard hats and safety helmets. Head protection does not have to be expensive but safety helmets with additional functions cost more. In such top models, safety goggles and comfort features are often integrated.

    How Long Do Hard Hats Last?

    Only helmets in good condition fully and reliably fulfil safety functions. For this reason, PPE must be checked regularly and replaced if defective. How long a construction hard hat lasts depends on both the material used and external influences. Direct sunlight, heat, cold, rain, and air pollution cause the helmet shell plastic to become porous and brittle faster. Depending on the material, the service life is between four and eight years.

    The manufacturer's specifications for the maximum use period must be observed. The manufacture year with the month or quarter is stamped into each safety helmet. According to EU PPE regulations, this must be marked as such so that it cannot be confused with the expiry date.

    What are Hard Hats Made of?

    There are two main material groups for helmets - thermoplastic and thermoset. Aluminium helmets are rare today.

    Commercial protective helmets are thermoplastic. It is characterised by superior breaking strength at cold temperatures down to -40°C but low dimensional stability at high temperatures. At temperatures from +70°C, safety is no longer provided by the material. The helmets can be used for up to four years after manufacture. However, there are also models that can be stored without loss of quality for up to seven years without external influences.

    • Shelf life: 4 years
    • Markings: PE, PC, PA, ABS, PP-GF, PC-GF, HDPE
    • Properties: no use in hot areas; high cold resistance
    • Applications: main construction trades, assembly, mechanical workshops

    Safety helmets made of Duroplast are particularly durable and heat and UV resistant. They retain their shape and safety function up to +500°C. They are also characterised by high chemical resistance. In contrast to thermoplastic helmets, thermoset safety helmet production involves a large proportion of manual processes, which is reflected in a higher price.

    Durability-wise, the higher acquisition costs are worth it. Thermoset helmets can be used for up to 10 years without loss of quality. Manufacturer specifications apply here.

    • Shelf life: 8 to 10 years
    • Markings: PF-SF and UP-GF
    • Properties: high heat and heat load; not at cold temperatures; high chemical resistance
    • Applications: Metal processing, metal production, shipyards, laboratories, the chemical industry

    When are Hard Hats Required?

    Head Protection Mandatory Sign

    Safety hard hats are a crucial part of PPE. Whether you must wear a helmet is determined by regulations in your country or region. A mandatory sign with the construction helmet icon indicates protective helmets are compulsory. It is the employer's responsibility to provide protective helmets to employees. In return, employees are required to use the helmet properly, regularly check its condition, and report defects immediately.

    A protective helmet is mandatory based on the risk for the following activities, for example:

    • Assembly work in steel, machine, and timber construction
    • Blasting work
    • Working in structural and civil engineering
    • Demolition and remodelling work
    • Work around cranes, elevators, or lifting platforms
    • Working at height
    Green Hard Hat

    Full-brim hard hats and protective helmets are often used on construction sites, but also in many other industries. Typical application areas include:

    • Chemical industries
    • Manufacturing
    • Structural and civil engineering
    • Roofing businesses
    • Forestry and the offshore industry
    • Climbing, heights, and rescue work
    • Workplaces with high UV radiation
    • Power companies and energy suppliers
    • Transport and infrastructure

    Which Safety Helmet Do You Need?

    Protective helmets must always meet PPE regulations. There are several types of helmets with different standards to consider:

    • EN 397 industrial safety helmets meet the basic requirements for shock absorption, penetration resistance, and fire behaviour. They are suitable for use in the construction and manufacturing industries. They provide vertical shock absorption (protection against falling objects) and thus protect against brain injuries or skull fractures. Protection against lateral deformation only helps to a limited extent in the case of flying objects or impacts
    • EN 14052 high-performance industrial safety helmets protect against falling objects, side impacts, and helmet penetration with better shock absorption. They are used when there is an above-average injury risk. The helmets are often heavier and larger than conventional safety hard hats and equipped with additional protection functions such as a folding visor
    • EN 12492 helmets for working at height, also known as climbing or mountaineering helmets, offer protection against impact and falling objects not just from above, but also from the front, side, and rear. They ensure that in the event of a fall, the head is protected from impact from all sides. They are light, well ventilated, and their field of vision is as unrestricted as possible. A strong chin strap ensures a secure fit even in a fall
    • EN 50365 electrically insulated helmets are intended for electricians and live work. They meet all the requirements for helmets according to EN 397 and also offer protection against electrical voltage

    How Often Should Hard Hats Be Replaced?

    One-time mechanical effects such as impacts and falls can impair helmet function. You must inspect the helmet regularly to check for damage. A simple crack test should also be conducted to check for any damage not visible from the outside.

    To perform the test, simply press the hard hat shell together gently and hold one ear close to the helmet. If the helmet crunches or cracks, this indicates invisible damage. Hairline cracks can also be identified this way.

    Damaged safety helmets must never be worn and should always be replaced immediately. They should also be replaced after a hard blow to the helmet shell.

    When Did Hard Hats Become Mandatory?

    The use of hard hats on construction sites and similar environments became more regulated under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. This legislation set general principles for health and safety in the workplace and paved the way for more detailed regulations, such as the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992, which specifically addresses the use of personal protective equipment, including hard hats.

    However, the exact date when hard hats specifically became mandatory in the UK would be influenced by specific work regulations and site-specific safety policies.

    Why are Hard Hats Made in Different Colours?

    A variety of colours is often seen on hard hats, but there are no rules governing colour. It's therefore essential to note that these colour codes can vary by location and industry. It's always advisable to ask on-site if you require clarification in your specific context.

    The different hat colours can signify roles or responsibilities within a construction or industrial environment. For instance, this makes identifying permanent workers, visitors, or specially trained individuals easier.

    White Hard Hat


    White construction helmets are often worn by visitors, architects, site managers, and laboratory staff.

    Shop White Hard Hats

    Yellow Hard Hat


    Yellow hard hats are often worn to identify general labourers, masons, earthmoving operators, and warehouse workers.

    Shop Yellow Hard Hats

    Blue Hard Hat


    Blue is the typical colour for electricians, carpenters, plumbers, and locksmiths, as well as medical staff members. Sometimes, apprentices or temporary workers might also wear blue hard hats.

    Shop Blue Hard Hats

    Red Hard Hat


    Red is the typical colour for firefighters or rescue workers. In some situations, it may also indicate a worker who should not work at heights.

    Shop Red Hard Hats

    Green Hard Hat


    Green typically signifies safety officers, but it can also indicate new or probationary workers in some environments.

    Shop Green Hard Hats

    Where to Buy Hard Hats

    When it comes to purchasing high-quality hard hats in the UK, there's no better destination than RS. With a vast range of top-quality safety equipment, RS is a reliable supplier of personal protective equipment, including helmets and hard hat accessories to meet your specific needs.

    We ensure that you have the right protective gear for your work and adhere to safety regulations and standards. Whether you're a supervisor, engineer, labourer, or safety officer, RS has a variety of hard hats and safety helmets suitable for your application.

    Remember to consider the specific needs of your project when purchasing a hard hat, including safety standards and any specific colour coding or requirements for your worksite. Make the safe choice and choose RS for your hard hat needs.

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