Q: Is there a single helmet the fits all rescue needs?
A: Rescue helmets is another mixed bag of choices that is heavily driven by two major factors; 1) What agency do you work for, and, 2) What rescue environment will you be performing in? Of course every agency and every environment have their own set of standards that further complicates your choice.
Q: What rescue helmets should we look for when considering the fire rescue/service?
A: Generally speaking the majority of urban fire/rescues follow FEMA/USAR requirements. The dominant standard for these helmets is NFPA USAR 1951-2007. Ultimately, OSHA has the final say on PPE for industrial rescue. OSHA states that protective headgear must meet ANSI Standard Z89.1 or provide an equivalent level of protection. The phrase “or provide an equivalent level of protection” does give some wiggle room for helmets that are lighter weight than FEMA/USAR models and are more preferable for wilderness rescues or extra-physical environments such as tower access and rescue and tight confined space entries and swiftwater rescue.
Q: How does OSHA and ANSI classify hard hats and helmets?
A: In addition to choosing helmets that meets ANSI Z89.1, agencies should ensure that rescue members wear helmets that provide appropriate protection against potential environmental hazards. It is important to recognize all potential hazards when making this selection, Electrical hazards is arguably at the top of the list. Consider a comprehensive hazard analysis of the wide variety of helmets available. On the industrial side of the equation OSHA divides hard hats into three industrial classes:
- Class A: hard hats provide impact and penetration resistance along with limited voltage protection (up to 2,200 volts).
- Class B: hard hats provide the highest level of protection against electrical hazards, with high-voltage shock and burn protection (up to 20,000 volts). They also provide protection from impact and penetration hazards by flying/falling objects.
- Class C: hard hats provide lightweight comfort and impact protection but offer no protection from electrical hazards.
ANSI has two major divisions. Type I helmets are designed to address the force of an impact to the top of the head, while Type II helmets address the top and well as the sides of the head. While ANSI parallels OSHA hard hat requirements they also go a step further on the electrical issue language.
- Class G (General): These helmets are proof tested at 2,200 volts.
- Class E (Electrical): These helmets are proof tested at 20,000 volts.
- Class C (Conductive): These helmets offer no protection against electrical contact to the head. Typically any helmet that has ventilation holes fall under this category. Ventilation holes are preferred in helmets that are used for swiftwater applications.