• Lee Calver
  • 18 February 2014

Employers must not forget the value of correct head protection

No matter what work environment you find yourself in, health and safety should be at the forefront of everything that goes on, and regulations need to become more and more engrained into the working life of both employer and employee.

Health and safety regulations are extremely wide-ranging and can be subject to changes and amendments from time to time, but one thing that remains constant is the need to ensure that construction workers are protected with adequate equipment, and in particular, head protection.

It is important that employers are aware of the regulations surrounding the use of this Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Simon Toseland, Head of Health and Safety at Workplace Law, reminds employers that this includes making sure that it is of the necessary specification, is readily available and is free from damage or defect.

Recently we were once again reminded of the significance of appropriate and correct head protection. An Aberdeen-based demolition firm was fined £40,000 for safety failings after a worker was seriously injured by falling cast iron guttering.

It was revealed that the worker, Mr Valentin Taljanov, broke his right arm, seven ribs, and a vertebra; punctured his lung and cut his head in the incident at disused buildings at Aberdeen Harbour on 16 July 2009, and following the case, HSE Inspector, Liz Hunter, said:

“This incident was wholly preventable by taking down the guttering in one go and it was probably only Mr Taljanov’s hard hat that prevented him from being killed.”

In 2013, The Construction (Head Protection) Regulations 1989, requiring construction workers to wear hard hats wherever there is a foreseeable risk of injury to the head, were revoked as part of a clean-up of health and safety regulations.

Despite this however, Simon Toseland warns that contractors must still be aware that the need for wearing head protection has not been removed, and the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 1992 have been amended so that they cover the provision and the use of head protection on construction sites.

Providing crucial tips for employers and employees alike, Simon states that it is essential that head protection fits properly, but also iterates that it should be as comfortable as possible for the wearer and obviously compatible with the type of work to be done.

As with any piece of equipment that is used on a regular basis, head protection can become ‘worn-out’ and therefore must be constantly checked to ensure that it is up to its job. Employers need to be aware that they are responsible for certifying that it is effectively maintained and that when it comes to replacing hard hats, wherever there are visual signs of damage or defect, or following impact, they should be replaced.

In terms of a time period however, it should be noted that manufacturers recommend replacing hard hats every five years regardless of external appearance. Furthermore, if work conditions include exposure to higher temperature extremes, sunlight, or chemicals, employers must recognise that hard hats should be replaced after two years of use.

Offering essential advice to employers, Simon said:

 “Some of these tips may sound quite obvious but they can save lives - I would advise employers that they need to make sure that head protection is always put on the right way round and also ensure that the brim is level when the head is upright.

“In addition, employers should always make sure that they keep a supply of helmets on hand for visitors.”

Simon added:

“I have seen various activities in my time involving head protection that I would strongly advise against. For example, I would say to employers they should ensure that head protection is never used for carrying materials, and that it is never painted.

“And while on the subject of trying to change the appearance of head protection, no one should ever try to modify it by cutting or drilling it, and head protection should also never be shared between people as it is specifically made to suit a particular person’s head shape and size. This type of activity can endanger lives and employers should do all they can to keep on top of health and safety and ensure that head protection is adequate and in its best possible working order.”

Thankfully the story in the press last week which saw a firm fined for health and safety failings didn’t result in a death, but nonetheless it once again demonstrates how important head protection is. It also shows that employers simply cannot risk getting it wrong when it comes to selecting the right protection for their staff and must maintain that it remains in top working order.