Hard Hats: to Sticker or Not to Sticker

Hard hat with the British Union Jack flag

There’s no question that applying stickers to your hard hat is a great way to set you apart from everyone else on the job site. Not only is it a way to set your hard hat apart from the sea of similar-looking buckets, but it allows your personality to shine through in an industry where your choice of clothing is often limited by safety factors or the law mandating what is required. 

But employees are not the only ones that like to apply stickers to hard hats. Supervisors on the job sites may also use labels or stickers to identify the names of the workers (some job sites have a lot of workers or temporary workers which makes it difficult to know everyone’s name).  Large projects may also have a number of different companies on site, so the company logo could be affixed to the hard hat to determine which company the workers are from.

A supervisor may also use a sticker to display a worker’s training or qualifications. This can quickly identify who is a first responder, EMT or which individuals are trained in things like confined space entry, forklift operation, or traffic control.

On the surface, these may seem like good (and harmless) reasons to apply stickers to hard hats. But there are a lot of questions about whether or not placing stickers on hard hats is allowed and that’s partly because there’s currently no clearly defined law against applying stickers to your hard hat. If you examine the issue a little more closely you’ll notice that most references to head protection indirectly advise against stickering. 

For example, hard hats should be maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. That is not to say the manufacturer will directly say, “don’t place stickers on hard hats”, but in some instances, a sticker could be considered a modification, which all manufacturers would advise against. The employer is responsible for ensuring that a hard hat is in reliable condition, which is essentially why inspection before use is required. 

Many safety professionals can talk at length about why they don’t agree with putting stickers on hard hats. Let’s break down some of the reasons why stickering is a bad idea.

Company Policy 

It’s always a good idea to start with the company policy on issues such as these. Some companies ban stickers completely (to the point that you won’t be allowed on a job site if your hard hat has stickers). This can be for reasons varying from protecting the company image to safety precautions. Whatever the reason, if these companies address this issue, it’s because they deemed it important enough to create a policy around it. So if you don’t know where you stand on hard hat stickers, look into policies created by similar companies and find out their reasoning for them.

Inspections 

Hard hats require regular inspections to check for cracks, dents, damage, wear and the like. Stickers can mask the damage or weakness in the shell, causing the person inspecting it to deem the hard hat in good working order when it’s not. These visual inspections can not only maintain a worker’s safety but will also alleviate any hassle should an external inspector unexpectedly drop by the worksite.

Integrity of Protection

The adhesive on the sticker can react with the plastic of the hard hat and compromise the strength of the material. This may seem like an unlikely scenario (and often the material is resilient enough to withstand that chemical reaction), but couple that with other factors like wear and tear, UV exposure, etc. and it’s an avoidable risk that most safety professionals wouldn’t take. There have also been cases where metallic stickers would act as a heat conductor altering the protection provided by the hard hat and ultimately weakening the plastic.

Even though there are some great reasons to sticker a hard hat, it’s important to understand that if it could compromise workers’ safety it’s generally inadvisable. As a hard and fast rule, always check the manufacturer’s specifications and what they recommend. At the end of the day a hard hat is worn for protection, so be sure that level of protection is maintained.