What Should I Do With Expired Hard Hats?

Cracked industrial hard hat on pure white background

You see them worn, the bright yellow hard hats worn by workers. They are a part of many jobs but have become associated with construction workers. What you might not know is that these hard helmets have an expiration date.

Most hard hats have a five-year expiration date after they are manufactured. This can change depending on how long between manufacturing and distribution and what conditions it was exposed to. Once it is expired, contact local recycling facilities to see if they accept hard hats or repurpose it.

Read below to learn more about how to determine if your hard hat is expired and how to dispose of it.

Finding the Expiration Date

While it might seem surprising hard hats will expire like any other product. An easy way to think about this is how your clothes will become more worn out the longer you have them. Eventually, you will wear a hole in the knee of your pants or your sweater will start to fray. Similar to other clothes, your hard hat will wear out the longer it is in use. To prevent hard hats from being used beyond the point that they still provide safety, all hard hats have an expiration date. This date is determined by the manufacturer after testing the hat.

In general, the expiration date is five years after the hard hat is manufactured. The manufacturer will place a permanent mark on the hat letting its buyer know when it was produced. While the location of this mark can depend on the hat, they usually are found near the edges of the hat and often on the brim of the hat. The mark generally comes in two forms.

The first mark looks like a clock with a circle of numbers around an arrow. The number that the arrow is pointing to will let you know the month the hat was made. The two numbers printed inside the circle on either side of the arrow are the last two digits of the year it was made. For example, 17 would be 2017 and if the arrow was pointing at 3 the hat was made in March of 2017.

The other mark has four quadrants with a bar separating them through the middle. On the bar are printed two numbers, again the last two digits of the year it was made. Each quadrant will either be marked a dot or not. The number of dots determines the quarter of the year the hat was made. From the example above to mark March 2017, the company would put 17 in the middle and only mark the first quadrant with a dot.

Once you find the manufacture date, add five years to find the expiration date. Any hard hat that is at its expiration date or past it should be replaced immediately.

Construction PPE – Steel toe boots and a yellow hard hat

Other Reasons to Replace a Hard Hat

While hard hats should be replaced at least every time that they expire there are other situations that may require you to replace them more often than that.

The first of these situations is the suspension of the hard hat. While the exterior of the hard hat, the yellow or orange portion, has an expiration date of five years, the internal suspension only has an expiration date of one year. Like the exterior, the suspension will be marked by the manufacturer indicating the date it was made. It should be replaced every year as it expires. When replacing the suspension, you should replace it with a suspension made by the same company. Companies test hard hats with their own suspensions. Using a different suspension with the same hard hat could compromise your safety.

Another situation where you should replace your hard hat is when it receives a high amount of wear. This could look like wearing a hat in strong sunlight every day. Over time the materials in the hat will deteriorate based on sunlight, temperature changes, and exposure to chemicals. Depending on the wear the material receives you will need to replace your hard had earlier than the expiration date, sometimes as often as every two years.

Your hard hat should always be replaced when it is damaged, like after receiving a strong blow, if it chips or cracks, or if the material is deformed are common types of damage. You can check your hat before putting it on by squeezing two sides with both hands. Listen for creaking sounds or a high amount of flexibility in the material. Check the suspension for tears or damage as well. These are signs that your hard hat may need to be replaced.

How to Recycle Hard Hats

When your hard hat needs to be replaced, you should try and recycle it. Recycling your hard hat helps to keep it out of a landfill and allows the materials to be reused in other products. Many hard hats are made out of type 2 plastic, which means they can be recycled. The difficulty with hard hats is that the way they were manufactured makes it hard to separate the materials so they can be reused. Check with your local recycling agency and see whether they have the tools to process hard hats.

Additionally, you can also see if you have a company near you that specializes in processing hard hats. Companies like Yes Recycling focus entirely on accepting hard hats and breaking them down into plastic that can be reused. If you have something like this nearby this is the best option to recycle your hard hats responsibly.

Builder Putting Waste Into Rubbish Skip

Other Ways to Dispose of Hard Hats

An alternative solution is to repurpose your expired hard hat into something else. Repurposing hard hats when you don’t have easy access to a recycling facility that will accept them means that extra plastic won’t end up in a landfill and that expired hard hats won’t hang around in your storage and supply areas.

Some repurposing ideas include hanging baskets, flower pots, memorabilia of the projects you used your hat for, children’s costumes, birdhouses, donate them to a daycare or children’s school for play, donate them to a costume store or thrift shop, or use them for storage in your garage or craft space. Dedicating a space on the wall of a garage or shed for worn hard hats could build into a pretty fun decoration.

If, after all that, you still can’t recycle or repurpose your hard hat, it is fine to dispose of them. There isn’t anything toxic or hazardous in the plastic of a hard hat, so it can be treated like any other trash.

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