Helmet Standards & Certification

18 July, 2023

Helmet Standards & Certification Explained

There are numerous different safety helmet standards with each outlining the minimum specification required for a specific end use or level of protection.

Choosing the correctly specified helmet, whether for mountaineering, industrial work at height or tactical operations, is important both to ensure personal safety and to mitigate liability in the event of injury.

Helmets for Mountaineering or Industrial Working at Height?

Helmets intended for use when mountaineering and helmets designed for use when working at height are covered by different standards.

EN 12492:2012 - Mountaineering and Climbing

Specifies safety requirements and test methods for mountaineering helmets which focuses on protecting the wearer's head against impact and penetration hazards associated with mountaineering activities.

EN 397: 2012 - Industrial

The safety standard for industrial helmets which concentrates on protection from overhead falling objects and other specific dangers such as protection from hot debris or electric shock.

Kask Plasma AQ
Kask Plasma AQ
Team Wendy EXFIL® SAR Tactical
Team Wendy EXFIL® SAR Tactical

The key tests required by these two standards are outlined below.
Feature EN397:2012 
Mountaineering & Climbing
Impact-Shock Absorption Industrial helmets are mainly designed to protect the wearer from objects falling overhead. Thus, the impact shock absorption test is only applied to the crown of the helmet. A striker with a hemispherical surface and a mass of 5kg is dropped onto the helmet from a height of 1 metre. The force transmitted through the helmet is measured and for a helmet to meet the requirements of EN 397, the maximum transmitted force, after suitable signal conditioning, cannot exceed 5 kN. This test is carried out on several helmet samples, following pre-conditioning to high temperature, low temperature, water immersion and UV ageing. Mountaineering helmets are subjected to an impact from a falling mass onto a fixed head-form; compared to the industrial standard where just the crown of the helmet is tested mountaineering helmets are also tested on the front, side, and rear of the helmet. Impacts are carried out with two strikers, one flat and one a hemisphere with both weighing 5kg. Helmets are impacted on the crown using the hemispherical striker dropped from a height of 2 metres and by the flat striker being dropped from a height of 500mm onto the front, rear and sides of the helmet. In all tests, the transmitted force through the head-form cannot exceed 10kN.
Penetration Industrial helmets are intended to provide protection against sharp / pointed objects, and so are tested for penetration by sharp objects. A 3kg conical striker is dropped onto the helmet from a height of 1 metre onto the crown of the helmet, and any contact between the helmet and head-form noted. Mountaineering helmets are intended to provide protection against sharp / pointed objects, and so are tested for penetration by sharp objects. The test for mountaineering and industrial helmets is essentially the same; a 3kg conical striker is dropped onto the helmet from a height of 1 metre, and any contact between the helmet and head-form noted. Penetration tests on mountaineering helmets can be carried out on any point around the shell of the helmet however, unlike EN 397, where they are restricted to an area at the crown of the head.
Retention/Chin Strap System The strength of the restraint system should be sufficient to enable any attached chin strap to hold the helmet on the head but not so great that the strap would become a strangulation hazard. In EN 397 the helmet is mounted onto a suitably sized head-form and the chin strap passed around an artificial jaw. A tensile force is then applied to the artificial jaw at a rate of 20N/min until the artificial jaw is released, due to failure only of the anchorage(s). The standard requires that the force at which this occurs shall be no less than 150 N (~15kg) and no more than 250 N (~25kg). The retention system is tested to ensure that it will hold the helmet on a head-form under a 10kg load applied at 45 degrees to the helmet and also that the chinstrap will not release under a load of less than 500 N (~50kg).
Ventilation Total ventilation area less than 4.5cm² Total ventilation area is greater than 4cm²
Optional Tests EN 397 allows a number of optional tests on helmets when additional protection is claimed. Helmets can claim protection against very high or very low temperatures, splashes of molten metal, electrical voltages up to 440 V, and lateral deformation.  

All safety helmets must clearly have the following information marked on them:
  • European safety standard
  • Manufacturer’s name
  • Date stamp of manufacture
  • Model number or name (on the helmet and the harness)
  • Size range
  • Shell material

Tactical Bump Helmets

Bump helmets are helmets that do not provide ballistic protection but provide head protection to specific civilian standards and which have tactical feature sets such as NVG mounts and picatinny rails.  Bump helmets can be certified to a number of standards, with the most common being:
  • EN12492:2012 Mountaineering helmet
  • PAS028:2002 Marine safety helmet
  • BS EN 1385:2012 (Whitewater)
  • Blunt impact performance per ACH CO/PD 05-04: 2007
Ballistic Helmets

Commercially available protective equipment is tested and certified according to standards set by the NIJ. As the research, development, and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, the organization oversees performance standards for equipment used by criminal justice agencies. NIJ isn’t a regulatory body; its performance standards are voluntary. Manufacturers engage third-party labs to test their goods to the specs set by the standards, thus allowing them to promote a certain NIJ protective “level.” NIJ guidance has become the industry standard for most commercially available body armor, largely adopted by manufacturers because it reflects best practices. It also makes it easier to compare equipment against a common set of benchmarks. But while NIJ maintains a tested Compliant Armor List, tactical helmets are governed by constantly evolving standards that defy one set of performance specifications.

There are three essential NIJ standards:

1. NIJ Standard 0106.01, Standard for Ballistic Helmets

NIJ helmet standard 0106.01—was published in 1981 and is considered woefully outdated. Further, 0106.01 “only consists of three levels, levels I, IIA and II, and so there is no level IIIa associated with an NIJ standard for helmets.” Thus manufacturers aren’t testing to just this old document, but to this standard combined with other, more modern and relevant NIJ balistic standards.

2. NIJ Standard 0101.06, Ballistic Resistance of Body Armor

For now, body armour is tested to NIJ Standard 0101.06, Ballistic Resistance of Body Armor, which as published in 2008. This standard’s test protocol identifies five ballistic protection levels determined by the calibre and velocity that enable a bullet to puncture ballistic material and/or cause blunt trauma to the wearer:

3. NIJ Standard 0108.01, Ballistic Resistant Protective Materials

The protection levels outlined by NIJ's Ballistic Resistant Protective Materials Standard (0108.01) can apply to a range of items. These levels can define the ballistic resistance of any piece of equipment, including helmets.
So, when a helmet company advertises “Level IIIA protection,” which standard are they following? When it comes to helmets advertised as “NIJ Level IIIA,” a manufacturer should be testing against NIJ Standard 0108.01, Ballistic Resistant Protective Materials. But some could conceivably be testing against the body armor standard, NIJ 0101.06. Level IIIA protection according to 0108.01 ideally means that a helmet is tested to stop up to the following threats:

• 240 grain (15.55g) .44 Magnum rounds at a nominal velocity of 426m/s (1,400 f/s).
• 124 grain (8.0g) 9 mm Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) rounds at a nominal velocity of 426m/s(1,400 f/s).

However, in reality, a lot of helmets aren't even tested to the .44 Magnum "IIIA" threat—very frequently, those that claim IIIA according to 0108.01 were only tested vs. the 9mm "IIIA" threat. In other words, helmet manufacturers don't always evaluate their stuff against both projectiles.

In addition, there is some debate about whether helmets that are tested to stop a .44 Magnum would fully protect the wearer. The back-face deformation injury from a .44 strike might still be fatal. But as a general rule all helmet purchasers and wearers should assume that a level IIIA helmet truly protects them against 9 mm Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) rounds at a nominal velocity of 1,400 f/s. And unless a manufacturer provides test data showing they’ve evaluated the .44 Magnum, purchasers should not assume they will have that level of protection.

Other ballistic helmets tests


 STANAG 2920 (Ballistic test method for personal armour materials and combat clothing) is used to measure materials ability to stop fragments and shrapnel. The measuring technique was originally developed for body armour but now see general use in all situations where fragments are the primary concern.

Blunt Force

To keep up with the latest threats and make helmets from lighter, stronger materials, tactical helmet manufacturers also test to specific standards set by large contracts like the U.S. Army’s Advanced Combat Helmet Generation II (ACH GEN II). ACH Blunt Impact Protection requirements (per Purchase Description AR/PD 10-02) stem from a widely used U.S. Army helmet impact test based on the Department of Transportation’s FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard) 218 for motorcycle helmets.

Back Face Deformation Test

H.P. White Test Laboratory introduced a test to evaluate back face deformation - HPWTP-0401.01. The purpose of this was to evaluate the ballistic resistance of a helmet to penetration by bulleted ammunition and the resistance of potentially lethal, back face intrusion of the helmet into the protected cavity as a result of non-penetrating bullet impacts.

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