Comment Workplace Safety

Hard hats vs bump caps

By Rod Auton, CEO, Crane Association of New Zealand.

SOMETIMES WE forget the little things when we are trying to turn a business strategy into dollars and cents, and invariably it’s the little things that catch us out.

Reducing costs and overheads sometimes results in the wrong decision being made through expediency, bad judgement or lack of information.

It has been noticed lately, that more and more companies in the construction arena are starting to take shortcuts in their procurement process that could potentially result in serious harm or even death.

A good example of this is employees wearing bump caps on a construction site where the potential for falling objects is significant, and the result could be someone not going home that night. The following explains the difference.

Difference between a hard hat and a bump cap

A hard hat is a type of helmet predominantly used in workplace environments such as industrial or construction sites to protect the head from injury due to falling objects, impact with other objects, debris, rain, and electric shock.

Suspension bands inside the helmet spread the helmet’s weight and the force of any impact over the top of the head. A suspension band also provides space of approximately 30mm (1.2 inches) between the helmet’s shell and the wearer’s head, so that if an object strikes the shell, the impact is less likely to be transmitted directly to the skull.

Some helmet shells have a mid-line reinforcement ridge to improve impact resistance. The rock-climbing helmet fulfils a very similar role in a different context and has a very similar design.

The hard hat is intended to protect a static user predominantly from falling hazards and is tested using a falling mass striker. The striker has a hemispherical surface that is five kilograms and is dropped onto the hard hat from one metre.

The force is measured by a load cell under a head-form and is recorded onto a graph. To meet the requirements of EN397, the maximum transmitted force cannot exceed five kilonewtons (5kN). Hard hats are required by EN397 to have chin strap anchorage.

A bump cap is a lightweight hard hat using a simplified suspension or padding and a chin strap. Bump caps are used where there is a possibility of scraping or bumping one’s head on equipment or structure projections but they are not sufficient to absorb large impacts, such as that from a tool dropped from several storeys.

The bump cap is intended only to protect the wearer from static objects (eg, walking into low ceilings or hanging obstructions). To meet the requirements of BS/EN812, testing is carried out using a lower energy level – a five kilogram striker is dropped on the helmet from 250mm, with a maximum transmitted force of 15kN.

Both types of hat undergo rigid testing to determine if they are fit for purpose and are tested for: Impact and shock absorption; and penetration.

Both types must also meet specific design requirements which typically would be: Coverage; field of vision; and ergonomics – clearance between the head and the shell.

So, if you have introduced bump caps onto your worksite or if you see others wearing bump caps on your worksite, then you need to bring it to the attention of whoever oversees the site. The hard hat pictured took a hit. It saved a man’s life.

It may not have if he had been wearing a bump cap.


This article was first published in Contractor‘s April issue.

Related posts

Parting words from Jeremy Sole- a final column

Charles Fairbairn

Smoko antics

Charles Fairbairn

John Deere K-Series wheel loaders

Charles Fairbairn