The hard hat is one of the most important pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) used on construction sites. Hart hats have saved many construction workers from serious head injury or even workplace death.  But, the effectiveness of a hardhat is limited if it is not worn correctly, kept well maintained and replaced when needed. 
Here are some guidelines for determining when to replace your hard hat:
1. Inspect your hard hat before each use. Check the shell for cracks, nicks, dents, gouges, and any damage caused by  impact, penetration, abrasions, or rough treatment. If your hard hat is made of thermoplastic materials, such as polyethylene or polycarbonate, inspect the shell for stiffness, brittleness, fading, dullness of color, or a chalky appearance.  Check your hat’s suspension for cracks or tears, frayed or cut straps, loss of pliability, or other signs of wear.  Check that all keys should fit tightly and securely into their respective key slots. If your hard hat shows any of these conditions or other obvious damage, it should not be worn.  Retire your hard hat and replace it immediately.
2. Ultraviolet light can cause the material in your hat to deteriorate.  Never store your hat in the window of your vehicle or in any other place where it is exposed to sunlight.  If you work in the sun, check for signs of degrading or fading and replace your hat every two years. You can test for degradation of the shell with a simple test. Compress the shell inward from the sides about 1 inch with both hands, then release the pressure without dropping the shell. The shell should return to its original shape and there should be no residual deformation or cracking.  If the hard hat does not pass this test, it should be replaced.
3. Hats should be replaced every two years if the work environment includes exposure to temperature extremes, sunlight, or chemicals.  The manufacture date codes are molded on the underside brim of the cap so you can easily determine the age of your hard hat.
4. Bright colored hats help keep you visible.  If your hat is fading, it is time to replace it.
5. Always replace a hard hat if it has been struck by any type of forcible blow, even if no damage is visible.  Impacts reduce the protective abilities of the hard hat.
6. Replace any hard hat that has been dropped for more than eight to ten feet.
If you are not sure if your hard hat needs replacing, contact the manufacturer directly for recommendations. A new hat may be expensive, but a head injury can cost a lot more.  Maintaining and replacing your hard hat when needed is an important part of on-the-job safety.

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James Roswold
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James Roswold is a Kansas & Missouri personal injury, workers comp, and medical malpractice attorney.