You might not eat them, but like food, hard hats have an expiry date. But where do you find the expiration date on your hard hat, and why does it matter?
To check the expiry date, you need to know where to find it, so let's start with that.
Every hard hat has an expiry date also known as a maximum lifespan. You might think that this would be marked on the hard hat, like a use-by or sell-by date, but it's not.
To check the expiry date, you first need to find out when the hard hat was manufactured. It's this manufactured date that will be stamped onto the hard hat, usually below the brim, simply flip your hard hat over and take a look on the inside.
You should see something that looks like this...
The number in the middle (13) is the year of manufacture, and the arrow points to the month (5). So this hard hat was manufactured in May 2013.
Now we have the manufacture date, to find out the expiry date, we need to know the shelf life or maximum lifespan of the hard hat.
This will depend on the make and model of the hard hat.
The standard lifespan used to be 3 years after manufacture. But, this is not always the case. Now many manufacturers, like JSP and 3M, give a 5-year lifespan from the date of manufacture.
So in our example above, for the hat manufactured in May 2013, on a 5-year lifespan, it expired in May 2018.
But please don't expect your hard hat to last that long. It might, of course, if you barely use it and store it in perfect conditions. But hard hats don't have it easy, and if you value your head, which you should, then be aware you will often need to change your hard hat before it expires.
3M recommends the shell be replaced at least every two to five years depending on work environment.
Even hard hats with a 5-year expiration date are recommended to be replaced as soon as 2 years under heavy use.
So, how long can you expect your hard hat to last from purchase? Up to the expiration date?
It's a common misconception that you can use your hard hat until it expires, but as we have seen from the manufacturer guidance, it's not actually the case. The expiration date is the maximum lifespan, not the date for replacement.
Hards hats have a hard life, they are exposed to the elements, they are bumped and knocked on a regular basis, and sometimes dropped. They are designed to withstand all sorts of impacts.
However, the manufacturer's guidance that comes with your hard hat will often include statements like "If the hard hat has sustained an impact, dispose of it immediately, even if there is no visible damage".
So once you hard hat has been impacted during use, you should be replacing it.
A hard hat’s service life starts the first time it is worn. You should make a note of this date, and carry out regular visual inspections for scratches, dents and other damage.
How long a usage you will get out of your hard hat depends on a few factors, how long after the manufacturer you start using it, and what happens to the hard hat when you use it.
For example, if a hard hat has a 5-year expiry date from manufacture, but it's in storage for the first 6 months, then you will have a maximum of 4.5 years of use.
If it gets hit by a brick after 3 months, then it should be replaced, and you will have actually had 3 months of use.
Really, how long a hard hat lasts can vary from 1 day up to the expiration date, depending on any damage that might occur.
In all circumstances where the expiration date has been exceeded, the hard hat should be replaced, regardless of how good a condition it appears to be in.
Unfortunately, this rule should apply even if the hard hat has never been used.
A hard hat doesn't go straight to use right after it is created. A hard hat might be sat in a shop or storage for the first year after manufacture, and not be used at all. Surely if the hard hat is still boxed up and protected it would be fine?
Hard hats are made of plastic, which deteriorates over time. It can become brittle and lose its resistance to impact, which means less protection if you get a knock on the head.
Even if a hard hat has not been used, it might have been stored in a cold environment, or near a window exposing it to sunlight. Different conditions will affect the strength and performance of a hard hat in different ways.
Hard hats are designed to deflect the force of impact, but if the plastic shell has deteriorated, not only could the hard hat be more likely to break, striking objects are more likely to penetrate rather than be deflected.
If you hard hat has expired, then it's maximum lifespan has been reached.
The manufacturer knows much more about the materials and construction of your hard hat than you could, after all, they made it. So trust what they say, and don't go beyond the advised expiry date.
So we know that a hard hat should be replaced when its expiration date has been reached.
Sometimes, a business will implement a blanket replacement schedule every 2 or 3 years, changing the colours or some other identifier to clearly indicate when hard hats have been replaced.
This is a great strategy to ensure hats don't expire, but it shouldn't be the only time hard hats are replaced, because as we have discussed, a hard hat might not last 2 years.
Do not use paints, solvents, chemicals, adhesives, gasoline or like substances on this hard hat – doing so can lessen the protection from impact and penetration.
These are a number of things to look out for that might indicate a hard hat needs replacing, including:
In addition to replacing the shell of your hard hat, most manufacturers recommend replacing the suspension (the straps that hold your head inside the hard hat) every 12 months.
You only get one head, so make sure you protect yours by using a hard hat that's both within its intended lifespan and in good condition.
Check your PPE is in a suitable condition, compatible with other items and suitable for use with the PPE checklist form.