March 7, 2023

Making Sense of Helmet Standards

About the author:

Jess Garland is a former IRATA Level 3 rope tech, she spent 9 years dangling from ropes on a wide variety of sites before hanging up her harness to start a family. She continues to use her practical experience from a keyboard with Scannable.

What EN standard should my helmet meet?

It's a common question we see pop up from working at height professionals.

The truth is, there are some grey areas when it comes to protecting your grey matter. 

There isn't a specific standard for helmets that are being used for work at height in the industrial world. Instead, rope access workers, arborists, riggers and rescue professionals need to choose a helmet that meets aspects of both EN397 (the industrial helmet standard) and EN12492 (the mountaineering helmet standard).

So, what are the differences and why do we need to choose a helmet that ticks the boxes of both standards?

One standard boasts a helmet that is robust against most of the perils of the industrial world. However, it assumes the user is working on the ground and therefore is only tested against impacts from above. It also requires a chinstrap that releases under load, designed to reduce the risk of strangulation in case the helmet becomes snagged.

The industrial world can be a noisy, dark, and dusty place, so most industrial helmets will feature attachment points for hearing protection, headlamp and visor.

When working at height we need added protection. As well as falling objects, we face the potential to fall from height, or swing. We need a helmet that will protect our heads from all angles, and we want that helmet to stay on. 

The mountaineering standard ticks these boxes, but helmets designed specifically for mountaineering tend to be lightweight, well-vented, and not built for the rigours of everyday industrial use.

It used to be that most industrial rope access workers would be pointed in the direction of one brand’s helmet that seemed to become an unwritten industry standard. Now, many brands offer helmets for working at height professionals. Although there is now a wider range of options, shopping has become more of a minefield. 

There are helmets on the market currently that actually meet both standards, though obviously not at the same time. 

Manufacturers have got around the problem we face by creating a helmet that can stand up to industrial hazards (meeting the requirements of EN397), with the extra side, back and front impact tests of EN12492. 

The pitfall for a helmet meeting both standards is the contradicting chinstrap requirement. Manufacturers have tackled this by allowing the user to change the breakaway strength of the chin strap depending on their work environment. 

In the real world this is not entirely practical, just a feature that gets ignored or creates some confusion. When working at height we need this chinstrap to be set at >50kg.

This diagram outlines the main differences between standards.

Another difference between the standards is the venting requirements. Having ventilation when you are sweating is great, but when the chainsaw is working and sawdust is flying, it may not be practical, so a nice feature is a vent that can be shut off. 

Some workers will also need to meet EN50365 - insulating helmets on low voltage installations. 

Insulating helmets must not contain any conductive parts and must not have any ventilation holes in the shell to meet this standard. Therefore an EN50365 helmet cannot meet the ventilation requirement of the mountaineering standard, but still, you need to check that it will protect you from side and crown impacts. This will be in the manufacturer’s specifications.

Specifications for the Petzl Vertex unvented helmet, noting that the ventilation standard is not met.

When shopping for a helmet, it is necessary to refine your search to helmets that are tested appropriately to give you the protection you need for the job. 

We have established that whilst working at height, it is important that your helmet meets the impact test requirements and chinstrap breakaway strength of EN12492 or equivalent, even if it doesn’t meet the standard fully. From there, narrow down your choice according to fit, comfort, and the features you need. 

If you’re uncertain about the standards that your current helmet meets, add it to your Kit List on the Scannable app to access all the data and documentation you need.