Hard Hats

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about hard hats:

Hello, Its seems that painters never want to wear hard hats is this a national phenomenon?

Signed, Frustrated

Dear Frustrated:

We aren’t experts on occupational safety issues, but I can comment on a couple of aspects of this issue. (And since I’m interested in everything new for me, this piqued my interest!) First, a brief search of state and federal OSHA regulations discloses that hard hats are required in commercial operations when employees are working in areas where there is a possible danger of head injury from impact, or from flying objects, or from electrical shock and [electrical] burns. Some portions of various regulations add the issue of being splattered by harmful chemicals.The regulations are written to describe risk, not occupation. So, not all painters would need to wear hard hats, only those who might fall from heights and suffer head injury or who might be hit by falling objects. If the painting job involved the use of ladders or scaffolds or if the painter might be hit by something, hard hats would be required in commercial work. It appears from the regulations that once the painter left the ladder or scaffold and started painting while standing at ground level or floor level, hard hats would only be required if there was a risk of falling objects. (As I said, I’m not knowledgeable about any of those regulations, it’s just the way I read and interpret them.) Y

our question was about whether this is a national issue, which leads me to believe it’s an issue with your employees or coworkers, and you’ve seen it happening all over as well. I don’t know about the national implications, but I do know that I have watched painters in my residential complex for the last year and none of the painters I saw wore hard hats. I had painting done in my home and the painter stood on a scaffold to paint the high walls, but was not wearing a hard hat.A website that sells uniforms says this about painter’s uniforms: “The painter hats are often fluorescent yellow in color and look quite similar to the hats that construction workers use. Their bright colors enhance the visibility of the painter and hence provide protection from accidents.” (Nothing about hard hats.) So, it could be one of those occupational issues that are almost cultural in nature.

Painters have not traditionally worn hard hats and they resist doing it now. Since hard hats are not viewed by some as being very comfortable (and they get very hot outside, as you likely know far better them me) there is probably a lot of griping about it–and the hats are removed when no one is looking.If I were a supervisor I would remind employees that they were hired with the expectation they would follow rules. If something were to happen to them you can bet their lawyers would be knocking at the company safe, and state and federal OSHA regulators would be involved as well. So, the rule must be followed. But, there has to be an “or else” component. If painters are warned over and over and over, why should they comply? Sadly, it will probably take firing a painter or (what I think would work better) suspending him from work for a time period, before everyone complies. I contacted The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades and was told that their stance is that if a painting company requires specific hats, boots, or any other safety item, their members are instructed to comply. One of the people I spoke to laughed and said, “But, they won’t like it.” So, even if the job was unionized the rule could likely be enforced–it just won’t be popular. But, many necessary rules are not popular. I hope this was helpful in some way. At least I found it interesting to research! Best wishes!

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.