Hard hats, eh: can’t wear them without overheating; can’t risk the brain trauma of a potential accident while not wearing them. Am I right?

May’s HSME is our heat edition, and there’s nothing that’ll make people less inclined to put on heavy, cumbersome, sometimes seemingly unnecessary extra clothing and other forms of PPE than the full sun beaming down. Nothing, perhaps, except also working while fasting. Hello, Ramadan!

This year, as many of you are well aware, Ramadan is taking place 23 April until 23 May, amidst a spell which boasts average historic daytime temperatures of 33-38°C. These are temperatures I’m sure we can all agree are well suited to relaxing poolside while sipping on a refreshing beverage, rather than working in the heat while also fasting.

Calling time

Fortunately, to help with this many people work shorter hours during Ramadan. This is broadly enforced across the region with the maximum hours permitted in the GCC being 36 hours per week, but the specifics vary depending on the country in which you are working. While most countries in the Region specify that your 36 hours a week should be split into six-hour days, this is not mandated in all countries.

Oman, for example, does stipulate sixhour days, but to a maximum of a 30-hour working week, which presumes that only a five-day week is worked.

There are also differences in exceptions country by country regarding whether exceptions to working hour requirements apply to employees that hold senior positions within an organisation, and whether or not these  restrictions apply only to Muslim employees or all employees.

The price on your head

If you could do your job safely without wearing personal protective equipment, you would. It’s a no brainer. Sure, some of it looks pretty cool, but ultimately it’s a hindrance: whether that’s through the extra weight it adds that you’re then carrying; its restriction of movement and dexterity; or causing you to overheat.

“hard hats, eh: can’t wear them without overheating; can’t risk the brain trauma of a potential accident while not wearing them”

That’s why the Hierarchy of Controls reigns supreme. Eliminating hazards, then substituting them, before moving onto introducing engineering controls, then administrative controls, then finally as the very last line of defence: PPE. If done right, you can rest assured that this hierarchy has been followed and your wearing PPE is absolutely necessary.

In many industries, however, you can’t help but feel that more could be done to safeguard workers, and that actually the bottom line is that workers are simply cheaper to replace than more expansive measures of safety would be to implement. It’s business after all, and what is business without cost benefit analysis. To play devil’s advocate, what’s the cost of human life when a company can save a few bucks? Because as cold as it may sound, people are making these decisions for you everyday.

Keeping cool

Let’s be optimists for a second, and assume that employers not only value your comfort and safety, but are willing to back that with an additional financial outlay. What should they be looking to buy? In terms of the crème de la crème of cranium protection for working  in the heat, you’ll want to keep an eye out for these features.

Vents, lots of vents

Putting a hard plastic shell on your head is akin to walking around with your head in a greenhouse, so you’ll be wanting to let some of that heat out. Fortunately there are lots of manufacturers who have thought of this, and incorporated extra aeration into what otherwise has the potential to become a sweltering product.

Fresh and clean

There’s few things better than a fresh pair of socks, so imagine for a moment the luxury of that same fresh feeling on your head.

A washable, snug fitting cotton skull cap under your hard hat can absorb the sweat of your toils and keep you comfortable.

Find some shade

Head protection that also provides shade is a vital tool in staying cool and avoiding heat stroke while working in hot weather. If you can’t do your work in a shaded area, sun capes that attach to helmets provide a welcome respite from the sun’s glare and are even available in high visibility fabrics to add an extra dimension of worksite safety.

“head protection that also provides shade is a vital tool in staying cool and avoiding heat stroke while working in hot weather”

Ice ice baby

With advancements in technology, come of course improvements in safety. Fabrics with cooling properties worn around the neck or as helmet inserts afford the wearer revitalising levels of cooling comfort, essentially enabling improved concentration and greater performance.

Get smart

To take things one step further, innovative wearable sensors are now available for constant health monitoring. In Australia, for example, smart safety hats are being trialled that automatically monitor the health of construction workers operating in hot environments. Much in the way that a personal gas detector monitors and alerts once safe levels of gases are exceeded, headband sensors and other electronics monitor the wearer’s heart rate and body temperature as well as the position of his or her hat, the location and also the ambient air temperature and relative humidity. The hat will then vibrate and announce warning through a series of beeps, while also alerting colleagues via local radio network and identifying through GPS the worker’s location.

Compatibility issues

It is definitely worth noting, when considering ‘add-ons’ to your carefully selected head protection, that wearing anything under your hard hat should not be taken lightly.

This is a changed new world that we are all experiencing due to the coronavirus pandemic. Those of us on lockdown – managing, juggling, and thriving to various extents on increased pressures, responsibilities and time with our families – are all too familiar with the importance of compatibility. After all, add pressure to any setting and weaknesses may grow into cracks. And in the world of head protection it is no different. Of course you cannot use your head protection if it is visibly damaged, and you must inspect it daily, but also you must ensure your additional protective equipment is complementary, rather than competing.

Logic would dictate that if you’re seeking shade where none is available, Wearing a peaked baseball cap underneath your protective hard hat would just add shade to an already safe scenario. This, however, would be a dangerous mistake to make.
One would never wear a baseball cap, for example, under a protective hard hat, as it is important to maintain a clearance between the shell of the hard hat and the wearer’s head, this is so the protection system works properly. In addition, it is possible that a cap may contain metal parts such as buttons or buckles, thereby diminishing the dielectric protection afforded by the hard hat.

“smart safety hats are being trialled that automatically monitor the health of construction workers operating in hot environments”

It’s also of vital importance that – unless specifically designed to do so – items are not placed above or below the crown straps.

Thin liners and cooling headwear, however, should not affect the performance of a hard hat if these products are worn properly and are fitted smoothly on the head. Likewise, shade and devices designed to be compatible with your PPE are a great addition, just don’t go rogue or it could compromise your safety.

Environmental challenges

“Let’s go fly a kite!” the kids exclaim with glee. Ah, strong winds are whimsical, aren’t they?! They’re invigorating, fun, exciting. It’s exciting to see big waves crashing in. It’s exhilarating going windsurfing, kitesurfing, and sailing. But then things get out of hand, and if not careful – which many aren’t – the very spectacle we’d been relishing turns and smites us.

Of course, on an average day working at a construction site or petrochemicals plant it may not feel like these concerns are anything to do with you. Working at height, for example, may feel neither invigorating nor necessarily exhilarating, depending on the height at which one is operating, and the view bestowed.

We’ve already touched upon the dangers of working in the heat, but another very real risk comes from working when there are strong winds at play. Last year in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, a woman was killed when a palm tree snapped in 80km per hour storm winds, falling on her and causing fatal injuries. She was out for a walk with her husband and seven-year-old daughter. Wind conditions are not to be taken lightly.

Head injuries from dropped objects can be caused by a dynamic change in environment, such as a sudden increase in wind speed. For a plethora of references on dropped object safety, visit www.dropsonline.org

Getting hot headed

So you’ve decided to go ahead and wear your head protection, excellent decision. Very safe. But now comes the kicker: you’ll probably have to trade safety for comfort. What, you thought you could be comfortable – and safe? Oh my. Bless you. No, while it is possible to achieve both simultaneously – and many manufacturers have – it’s hard to achieve on a low budget price point. You truly find out how valued you are as employees when you start requesting kit above the minimum spec. I hate to say it, but many of you should try to get used to, nay, even start enjoying, being a sweaty mess.

The tricky gift that this quandary grants, is that when you’re hot and bothered your attention is torn. You can have every intention in the world to focus on the job in hand, but when your plastic safety helmet is creating a greenhouse atop your head and there’s a lone bead of sweat making a breakaway right down the centre of your forehead and along your nose, it’s hard to not grace it with at least a cursory nugget of attention. And then, BANG, you’ve walked off the edge of the roof. And while that particular example is of an acute distraction, let’s not forget the background-level rumble of annoyance from simply being too hot.

That annoyance will spill out onto all tasks, onto co-workers, and maybe onto the slip of attention or judgement that kills you. So take heed, be mindful, and don’t work up to your limits – you never kno

w when extra attention may be needed, and if you have nothing in reserve it might just be the last decision you make.

Killing them with kindness

Individuals choosing to wear respiratory protection and gloves in the light of Covid-19 pandemic are quickly realising wearing protection and using it correctly is fraught with pitfalls. Even if you manage to navigate the gauntlet of selecting PPE that will actually keep you protected, rather than just falsely feeling a sense of security, in the case of contaminants you must then also don and doff said PPE correctly, let alone manage to still not touch your face with your danger wielding gloved hands. Just as is the case when handling asbestos, Covid-19 – to put it bluntly – ‘gets everywhere’. Just because your hands may be safe inside the gloves, you can still transfer contamination.

Think of how far and wide glitter spreads; opening just one innocuous greetings card can leave you subject  to waking up months later with a rogue glitter fleck on your face. In cases of mesothelioma, it’s so often a family member who succumbs to illness. Why? Only the saddest reason of all: love and kindness. Hugging your partner when they get home from working with hazardous materials like asbestos, and the kindness of washing their work clothes means all too often that those particles then sit on the clothes and skin of our families. And what has asbestos on clothing got to do with head protection, I hear you ask? Well in the hot weather, that cotton skull cap you’re likely wearing under your helmet to keep the sweat from cascading with an eye-bound trajectory from the waterfall that is your brow line may well have picked up contaminants during the course of your working day.

In closing

Personal protective equipment is the last possible line of defence, so once you’re wearing a hard hat there’s a strong chance that in your immediate environment it is the most sophisticated thing keeping you safe. Much like a ninja turtle it’s just you and your shell against adversity, so you’d better make darn sure you look after it so that it keeps on looking after you.