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Above the neck protection

Published: 10th Mar 2011

Safety helmets play a vital role in protecting personnel on site, yet many are unaware that like most products, they have a shelf life. The implications of this are huge, with many site personnel currently using helmets that should have been replaced.

Fortunately, new technology has been developed that is beginning to address this issue.

There is an ongoing discussion and much confusion on the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website around the issue of when a hard hat should be replaced.

Obviously, this should always be after it has received a knock. However, what many people fail to realise is that safety helmets have a defined life span, which is why all safety helmets have a date stamp - usually on the underside of the peak.

The general rule is that they should be replaced every three years, although it is important to check with the manufacturer first. It is common for personnel to omit checking this ‘shelf’ life, resulting in a worrying number of safety helmets in use today that require urgent replacement.

It was against this background that manufacturers and academic institutions began developing a new safety helmet that would overcome these issues.

The aim was to create a product specifically designed to improve head safety, while highlighting user data and when shelf life had been reached.

To satisfy all individual needs two variants of the safety helmet were developed - one for use in general industrial applications and the construction sector and another to meet the special requirements of the Oil, Gas, Energy and Petrochemical industries, certified for use in hazardous areas.

As well as incorporating technology, it was important to meet the most stringent safety levels required by current legislation and standards for safety helmets.

This involved providing enhanced side impact strength and protection to weight ratios, while keeping it lightweight and comfortable to wear for extended periods.

Care was also taken to ensure that the new safety helmets featured all the general technical specifications such as fully adjustable head strap, as well as incorporating twin adjustable chin straps to make sure it stayed in place. These features actually exceed minimum guidelines, but the view of those involved in this project was that if they were going to improve safety using technology, it should also offer the best physical protection for the user too.

Technology based safety

The new safety helmet incorporates patented RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology, specially ATEX certified for use in Zone 1 Hazardous areas, which allows its ownership, history and inspection record - and even its user details - to be embedded on an in-built RFID tag.

There is also the opportunity to opt for a specialist PC based reader tool system and USB reader wand. This is designed to enhance personnel safety by ensuring that only fully serviceable helmets are in use on a site - a crucial requirement when security is a concern.

Using this system will ensure that this most widely used piece of safety equipment will always be properly maintained and that expired units are safely withdrawn at end of life, or following impact damage.

In use a ‘Recall’ prompt is flashed and service alarms are automatically generated by the system as a helmet approaches the end of its life. Alarms are also raised where a helmet is found to require immediate inspection or replacement by an RFID ‘spot check’, or ‘emergency interrogation’ of its identity.

The slim-line RFID ‘identity tag’ built in to the helmet at time of manufacture is embedded into the outer profile, creating a robust, tamper resistant product.

It stores pre-defined key safety related information, such as the helmet’s unique serial number, its date of manufacture and its designed service life span - the date after which it should be mandatorily withdrawn from use.

Additionally, the tag stores other data; for example the helmet’s ownership (which is usually pre-set at point of manufacture) and service life user data, such as the allocated user’s name.

Other pertinent information can also be stored, such as emergency contact data, and the product’s inspection history. This can be updated during the helmet’s life using reader tools and accompanying service tools provided.

What’s more, complete inventories of users and their helmets can be created and this same tool can also be used to produce accurate real time compliance reports and PPE inventories without anyone having to manually input the data.

Additional benefits

A further benefit of incorporating this type of technology into the safety helmet is that since the user’s ID is recorded along with the other helmet data in the embedded RFID tag, the helmet can be used with tracking systems - Personnel On Board / Site (POB/POS) - automated tracking and personnel management solutions.

This facility may be still further enhanced since the helmets have also been designed to accept, using a special mount at the rear of the helmet, both Ultra

Wide Band (UWB) and GPS+ tags, allowing helmet user location to be monitored precisely in real-time, over significant distances, for safety purposes.

The benefit of being able to incorporate such added features into perhaps the most universally used safety product - the safety helmet - is that it offers a unique and convenient way for workers to be remotely monitored for safety purposes.

Safety helmet design

The safety helmet or, what is more commonly known as the ‘hardhat’, is used across all sectors of industry. Indeed, it is now mandatory on virtually all work sites that employees wear them if there is a risk of head injuries.

Modern safety helmets are commonly made from durable injection-molded, high-density material (such as ABS, PC or HDPE), which makes them lightweight but strong, with good impact resistance and durability.

As such, designers involved with this particular project took considerable care in selecting the optimum design and plastic alloy composition to provide the required characteristics of high strength and lightweight.

Each safety helmet, in addition to the standard number to which it complies, should show maker and model identification, the size or size range in centimeters on both shell and harness, along with an informative label with specified wording, shell material, e.g. ABS, PC or HDPE.

It must also show year and quarter (or month) of manufacture and it is the latter that causes most confusion - either because the date isn’t there, or because there is confusion about whether it is the date of manufacture or date of expiry.

To make matters worse, there is uncertainty about the ‘product life’ if it has been stored before use. Modern safety helmets that incorporate an RFID ‘identity’ in each helmet will help to eliminate this uncertainty by sounding an alarm when the product has reached the end of its life.

Helmets are available in a variety of designs and it is important that the right type is provided for the work to be done.

For example, a helmet with an easily adjustable headband, nape and adjustable chin straps to ensure it stays in place is extremely important when working at height, where there is the potential for a helmet that isn’t properly adjusted to fall from the user’s head.

Similarly, if the work on site involves repeated bending or constantly looking upwards, a comfortable and effective headband, nape and chin strap is essential,and again these features have been explored in the development of new safety helmet ranges.

It is also important that a safety helmet doesn’t hinder the work being done.

A reduced peak, for example, is useful for a surveyor taking measurements on an industrial site, or to allow unrestricted upward vision for a scaffold erector.

For work in hazardous areas

Many readers will be considering workforces based in the the Oil, Gas, Energy and Petrochemical industries, where one special requirement is helmet certification for use in hazardous areas.

Here’s where the ATEX Zone 1 certification is an important feature.

ATEX - Zone 1

ATEX is derived from the French “Atmosphères Explosibles”, which describes the potentially explosive atmosphere that could be present when air is mixed with gases or combustible dusts.

ATEX is the name commonly given in Europe to the framework for controlling these explosive atmospheres and the equipment and protective systems used within them. It is based on the requirements of two European directives: the ATEX Equipment Directive, and the ATEX Workplace Directive.

The ATEX Workplace Directive focuses on the minimum requirements for protecting workers potentially at risk from explosive atmospheres. In Britain, the requirements of the ATEX Workplace Directive are put into effect through DSEAR (the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations).

DSEAR defines an explosive atmosphere as “a mixture of dangerous substances with air under atmospheric conditions, in the form of gases, vapours, mists and dusts in which, after ignition has occurred, combustion spreads through the entire unburned mixture.”

Explosive atmospheres can be present in all kinds of workplaces, from oil rigs and refineries to vehicle paint spraying and those handling fine organic dusts, such as grain or flour. DSEAR requires employers to eliminate or control the risks from these dangerous substances. Where explosive atmospheres may occur, employers must classify these into zones dependent on the likelihood of an explosive atmosphere occurring and the persistence of this atmosphere.

Equipment for use in these zones should be selected to meet the requirements of the ATEX Equipment Directive for use in these specific zones.

PPE manufactured to the PPE directive, such as the safety helmet, is specifically excluded from the scope of the ATEX Equipment Directive. However, any PPE that is intended for use in an explosive atmosphere must be designed and manufactured so that it cannot itself be the source of an electric, electrostatic or impact-induced arc or spark that might cause the explosive mixture to ignite.

Additionally, if the PPE contains its own potential sources of ignition, then the equipment should follow the procedures laid down in the ATEX Equipment Directive to provide the necessary levels of explosion safety.

Head injuries

Until relatively recently, hard hats didn’t exist. Now, they are a mandatory requirement within many workplace environments within the oil and gas sector, and it is the employer’s legal obligation to ensure a safe and healthy workplace.

Part of this requires checking that safety helmets are fit for purpose, which means ensuring they have not passed their expiry date or been damaged.

Every year an unacceptable number of workers are killed or seriously injured as a result of head injuries. However, wearing a safety helmet that provides adequate protection significantly reduces the risk of injury or even death.

In simple terms, protective headwear can save lives.

An analysis of injuries among workers on an oil rig operating in the Mediterranean Sea over a 12 month period showed that head and neck injuries accounted for more than

10 percent of the total, indicating that effective head protection is rightly an area of focus. Protective headwear has developed significantly in the last 20 years and the range and scope of headwear solutions available for individual tasks is vast.

That means it can be confusing for Health and Safety professionals trying to ensure adequate protection is afforded to employees. This confusion is magnified further when considering consumer markets.

A quick look at the HSE website gives an indication of the confusion surrounding the shelf life of safety helmets. Coupled with this is the increasing need to maintain security on site - and that means ensuring the person wearing the helmet is the one that should be. But here is where safety helmet technology that integrates with existing mustering and location systems technologies can play a part in creating a much more secure facility.

Ultimately, it is personnel on site who will benefit from any improvements in safety helmets. That’s because all too often regular inspections are not carried out, even though it is the wearer’s responsibility to do so.

For business owners and managers who want to eliminate this uncertainty and reduce their risk, incorporating technology into the safety helmet is an effective method of carrying out this vital process efficiently and accurately.

Conclusion

It is anticipated that in time, more safety helmets will incorporate their own RFID, built in at time of manufacture. These embedded tags should be robust, tamper resistant and store pre-defined, key safety related information, such as the product’s unique serial number, its date of manufacture and its designed service life span (the date after which it should be mandatorily withdrawn from use).

This alone will help clarify one of the most common issues associated with safety helmets - specifically, when they reach the end of their life and are therefore ready for replacement - enabling employers to demonstrate that they have exercised diligence and an appropriate level of care to employees by complying with their mandatory Health and Safety duties. ?

Author

Doug Woodbridge is the head of sales and marketing at S3 ID and has more than 20 years’ experience in the Oil and Gas sector.

He has been at the hub of a design project for new hardhat technology involving Draws International, Sheffield Hallam University and S3 ID.

The project aimed to improve head safety, while highlighting user data and when shelf life had been reached.

Two variants of the safety helmet were developed - SuperSafeTM for use in general industrial applications and the construction sector and UltraSafeTM for use in the Oil, Gas, Energy and Petrochemical industries - specific patents are pending for additional aspects of the design and application of these helmets, while they are already protected by existing Patents.

In addition to marketing the company’s range of patented electronic location awareness, POB (personnel on board), mustering, security and personnel logistics solutions, Doug promotes the company’s application expertise, which also provides clients with expert consultancy and engineering services including evaluation, concept, FEED and EPIC.

S3 ID is an international company providing complete ‘location awareness’ solutions and is the manufacturer of the acclaimed S3 range of products, spanning everything from personnel and asset tracking, POB, mustering, access control, safety and security to travel logistics management, shift rotation planning and bed management.

S3 ID is unique. The S3 range has been developed from first hand experience serving the on-shore and off-shore Oil and Gas industry. Products are ATEX certified and solutions use patented technology time proven in operation worldwide with many blue chip clients. S3 ID provides application expertise in this specialist market sector which is second to none.

S3 ID’s state of the art systems help save lives by enabling real-time location awareness of personnel, helping maintain safety and minimising the time for emergency evacuations and muster drills.

For more information:

T: +44 1709 538205 E: sales@S3-ID.com W: www.S3-ID.com www.osedirectory.com/health-and-safety.php

Published: 10th Mar 2011 in Health and Safety Middle East

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