Ever since they were first used in early major construction projects in the United States back in the 1930’s, the hard hat has been an ever-present safety accessory on most heavy industry sites all over the world. Fast forward a few years and hard hat colour codes began to be used to determine the various levels and trades of employees and contractors working on a particular site.
Hard hat colours can signify different roles on operational sites. Most persons visiting or working in a heavy industry setting these days are likely to have come across some sort of hard hat colour scheme.
Interestingly enough, there has never been any particular standard regulating hard hat colour codes. The practice and the colours used generally differ from country to country and from one industry to another. Many Governmental agencies in the United States such as the Navy or the Department of Transportation have their own hard hat color scheme that may apply to their subcontractors. In organizations or projects where multiple companies are involved, employees of the same company may wear the same color hat.
In the United Kingdom for example, Build UK is an association that has a set colour scheme widely used within the construction industry, with many organizations following these guidelines both within and outside of the construction industries. Recently changed in January 2017, If you are operating in the construction industry within the United Kingdom you may want to follow their colour coding system consisting of four colours. Black (for Supervisors), White (General use and competent operatives), Blue (inexperienced persons and site visitors) and Orange (Slingers and signalers).
The following are the colour codes commonly followed in various industries worldwide, many organizations adapt their own codes and no one company strictly apply all of these colours:
White: Colour worn by site managers, foremen, engineers vehicle marshals and competent operatives
Blue: The colour has been used for carpenters and other technical operatives such as technicians for example.
Brown: Worn by welders and other workers working with high heat applications.
Green: Has been used to signify safety inspectors or officer on various sites
Yellow: Has been used for general laborers and earth moving operators
Red: Commonly used on sites where safety watches or fire marshals are required as part of the operations.
Grey: Used for site visitors
As wearing hard hats is mandatory in many operational sites, using the hardhat colour codes can offer an added bonus to ensure stronger site safety controls are in place. I have mentioned a few of these advantages in the below points:
1. Identifying categories of personnel most at risk
This could include new employees going through a training period, short term contractors working on a turnaround or personnel visiting the site for a short period of time. Being able to identify these individuals allows plant personnel to control their access to certain high risk areas or ensure they are sufficiently monitored for certain tasks.
2. Getting the support required in a timelier manner
In a large operational site where people may not always know each other, identifying certain categories such as green hardhats for safety personnel or red ones for emergency response could ensure personnel get the required support needed in the case of an emergency.
3. Overall better quality of work can be maintained
Ensure the right person is doing the right job they are meant to do! Having different trades wearing different colours does provide an overall pictures of where everyone should be when performing site walkthroughs.
4. Access control to specific areas
Areas such as substations in an operating plant, for example, could be classified as an area of specific access, with only electrical personnel and certain level engineers allowed to enter these areas. Hard hat colour schemes can easily allow you to identify the trades which are not meant to have access to these areas.
Ultimately it is important to always select a colour scheme that matches your operational requirements, does not confuse people and sits well with your contractors. It may also need to take into consideration the industry colour schemes or any recommendations made within local legislation.
As in everything else, common sense needs to prevail when it comes to these kinds of things, I remember a particular case a few years ago where the construction of a multi-million-pound shopping complex in Aberdeen was briefly stopped as certain employees were not wearing the correct colour coded hard hats. Better temporary solutions need to be sought in these situations to allow for business continuity and not allow for such schemes to become a hindrance.
On a final note, I used to work in a water treatment plant a few years ago that actually kept a number of pink hard hats given to employees who forgot or lost their own. They would walk around the plant in these things until they managed to get their hands on a replacement!
I am not encouraging it…..it was pretty funny when it happened though J