Hard hat vs. safety helmets (vs. climbing-style helmets)

Hard hat vs. safety helmets (vs. climbing-style helmets) header image

The short answer: safety helmets offer better protection and fit.

Hard hats are being replaced by a more modern version of the popular head protection necessity – the safety helmet. This transition brings some much-needed upgrades to one of the most used personal protective equipment pieces on the job – and for good reason.

Even in mandated hard hat areas, workers may have sub-par PPE options that aren’t worn or sufficient in the workplace. When we asked our customers about their hard hats, we found four main concerns:

  1. Poor and uncomfortable fit
  2. Accessories that are difficult to use together
  3. Unfixed chin straps
  4. Suspension systems that are confusing to put together

When this is the case, compliance could become a big problem, increasing the potential for injury. The bottom line is that it could be time to replace your hard hat with a safety helmet.

The concept behind safety helmets 

The need for better protection and fit regarding head protection isn’t new – it’s been around for years in the sporting world.

In fact, the same protection methods used in mountain climbing, biking, and other sports have been worked into the safety helmet design, with some featuring better side impact protection and a more secure and ergonomic fit for the wearer’s head.

The idea is that these upgrades will offer better functionality and comfort for head protection used on the job—just like it does for sports lovers and athletes.

Additional features, such as added front, side, and back protection; shorter brims for better visibility; and secure adjustable chin straps, are included to keep the PPE fastened to the head in dangerous situations (for example, a fall from a ladder or scaffolding).

This leads us to our next topic: “climbing style” safety helmets.

What exactly are climbing-style safety helmets?

Oftentimes the term “climbing style” or “at height” is used to describe safety helmets in the market. However, there are currently no U.S. standards or requirements for climbing style or at-height helmets - both with OSHA and ANSI (though all helmets must meet ANSI Z89.1 to be sold in the U.S.). 

Instead, these helmets are more of a “style,” meaning they have certain characteristics that other safety helmets don’t—but nothing official.

Most often, they have one or more of these characteristics:

  • Chin strap: Keeps safety helmet securely in place
  • Short brim: Allows for greater field of vision when looking upwards
  • More compact fit: Keeps safety helmet balanced, with more clearance
  • Added padding: utilized to protect against impacts to the top and sides of the helmet, as well as falling from a greater height

This means there are no truly “at-height rated” helmets in the U.S.—only those recommended for at-height use. Please note that climbing-style helmets are not automatically type II safety helmets, though a type II helmet may have some climbing-style features.

However, a European recreational mountaineering helmet standard—EN12492—requires safety helmets to meet several rigorous tests. Meeting this EN12492 mountaineering standard is what many safety helmet manufacturers mean when they talk about their “climbing style” or “at-height” helmet – but not all of them. Read more about this standard here

Confused? You’re not alone. Read more about why there’s so much confusion regarding “climbing style” safety helmets in the market.

Additional thoughts on head protection

Like hard hats, safety helmets can have attachable hearing protection and face shields. Make sure to research the best safety helmet type, accessory options, and feature offerings for your industry and application(s).

The most important aspect to remember about all safety helmets is that they must provide the means to keep workers safe on the job, meeting both OSHA and ANSI (or other) standards and aligning with worker application and environment.

As long as you have that understanding, you’ll help to mitigate injury on the job.

HexArmor® can help

If you need help finding the right safety helmet for you, HexArmor® can help. With innovation and design in mind, we’ve reinvented the protection that saves one of your most important assets: your head.

The HexArmor Ceros® family of safety helmets brings you cap-style and full-brim safety helmets with more comfort, more stability, more style, and more safety.

Plus, there are options for a magnetic integrated accessory system and anti-fog and scratch-resistant face shield coatings.

Learn more about HexArmor's safety helmet technology.

Let us know if you have questions or would like to start a trial—our Solution Specialists are ready to help. Call 1-877-MY ARMOR or send us a message.

Browse HexArmor's Ceros® safety helmets

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