Making Hard Hats Optional Represents a Giant Step Backward for Safety

Please share and provide input to WorkSafeBC!

WorkSafeBC is considering a troubling change to the regulation that helps to protect all workers from head injuries. 

The existing regulations are clear and concise:

“Safety headgear must be worn by a worker in any work area where there is a danger of head injury from falling, flying or thrown objects, or other harmful contacts.”

A proposed change would confuse and weaken this requirement by substituting these words:

(1) Before a worker starts a work assignment where there is a risk of head injury to the worker from falling, flying or thrown objects, or other harmful contacts, the employer must take measures to

(a)   eliminate the risk, or

(b)   if it is not practicable to eliminate the risk, minimize the risk to the lowest level practicable by applying the following control measures in order of priority:

  • engineering controls;
  • administrative controls;
  • if the control measures set out in subparagraphs (i) and (ii) are not adequate to minimize the risk to the lowest level practicable, the use of safety headgear by the worker.” (Proposed Regulation 8.11)

According to the WorkSafeBC Discussion Paper that has been circulated publicly:

“The Sikh community has raised concerns employers are effectively applying this section as a blanket requirement, resulting in turban-wearing Sikh workers not being able to fully participate in the workforce. The Ministry of Labour requested WorkSafeBC consider amending the OHSR to continue to protect the health and safety of turban-wearing Sikhs, while providing accommodation where there is no risk of head injury.”  (Discussion Paper, p.1)

The proposed change is being promoted by Labour Minister Harry Bains. The Minister of Labour is responsible for WorkSafeBC, which is bound to carefully consider the Minister’s suggestions.    

The proposed change to the hard hat regulation would be a blow to hard-won and effective universal safety protocols and significantly weaken protection for 230,000 construction workers in BC and workers in other industries where hard hats are now required.  

Workers on a construction site move quickly from one area to another. An area that appears safe from falling objects may actually be unsafe or become unsafe a short while later because of a change in workflow or work conditions.

It is neither practical nor reasonable to expect an employer to evaluate the risk of head injury on a minute-to-minute basis, then mitigate these constantly changing risks by relying on administrative or engineering control measures.

There is also no ethical framework under which an employer can advise a construction worker that removing a hard hat is either safe or acceptable.

The proposed new wording would weaken and frustrate a successful safety model.  The best way to protect construction workers from head injuries is already enshrined in current regulations, making the wearing of hard hats universal and mandatory on any part of a construction site.

Head injuries are a serious problem in British Columbia.

WorkSafeBC’s own data demonstrates that we have a long way to go to protect our workers from head injuries. In 2019 alone, 335 Sector 72 construction workers received head injuries, with almost 2,200 construction workers similarly injured over the last 10 years.  BC workers in all industries have suffered a total of 24,889 head injuries over the same decade.

Here’s what happens when a tool is dropped from a height onto a watermelon: 

Watch through the video to see how a hard hat offers protection. Hard hats save lives and reduce the severity of injuries. 

Ongoing safety awareness, good worksite planning, effective safety training and management, and the use of other physical protection all play a key role in the defense against head injuries. But on their own, they will never provide the same level of worker protection as the universal use of hard hats. 

The changes proposed by WorkSafeBC are based on a false premise — that accommodation for religious beliefs should supersede workplace safety.

Weakening hard hat regulations would represent a giant step backward.

Let WorkSafeBC know how the proposed regulatory changes would make your workplace less safe. You can compose your own message, or use this template –>

Then send your letter by email before October 2, 2020 to:

Lori Guiton,
Director, Policy, Regulation & Research Division,
WorkSafeBC
email: policy@worksafebc.com