The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a final rule on employer payment of personal protective equipment (PPE) on Nov. 15, 2007. The rule, with a few exceptions, requires “protective equipment, including [PPE]…[to] be provided by the employer at no cost to employees.” The rule applies to construction, maritime and general industry.
The International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) welcomes this rule. At every opportunity, both official and not, ISEA expressed to OSHA that employers should pay for all types of PPE, including prescription safety eyewear and steel-toed footwear, for a variety of reasons.
This issue has been pending since the late-1990s. In 1997, the Occupational Health and Safety Review Commission determined OSHA must state in regulatory text that employers shall pay for PPE; rulings via field directives and letters of interpretation would not be allowed. In 1999, OSHA published a proposed rule on employer payment for PPE. The recent final rule is substantially similar to the earlier proposal.
The November 15 final rule clarifies that employers must pay for PPE required by OSHA standards, except for the specific exceptions. If a particular item is not PPE or is not required by OSHA standards, it is not covered by the final rule.
OSHA illustrates its final rule with a listing of PPE that when used to comply with an OSHA standard must be provided by the employer at no cost to the employee. The full list can be found on the ISEA website — www.safetyequipment.org — but highlights include the following: non-prescription eye protection, prescription eyewear inserts/lenses for full face respirators, welding helmets and diving helmets; non-specialty gloves for protection from dermatitis, severe cuts/abrasions (but payment for gloves is not required if the gloves are used for keeping clean or for protection from cold weather); aluminized gloves; mesh cut-proof gloves; fall protection; and reflective work vests.
The rule is complementary to OSHA standards that require employer payment for PPE at no cost to workers. Included in this list are standards covering blood-borne pathogens, respiratory protection and hearing protection.
The specific exceptions from employer payment include non-specialty safety-toe protective footwear (including steel-toe shoes or steel-toe boots); also, logging boots are the responsibility of logging employees. Non-specialty prescription safety eyewear does not have to be paid for by the employer as long as the employer permits them to be worn off the job-site.
“Everyday clothing” also is exempted from the rule. This category includes long-sleeve shirts, long pants, street shoes, and normal work boots, skin creams, or other items used solely for protection from weather, such as winter coats, jackets, gloves, parkas, rubber boots, hats, raincoats, ordinary sunglasses and sunscreen.
Employees must pay for replacement of PPE that has been lost or intentionally damaged.
Finally, if an employee provides adequate protective equipment he or she owns and brings to the jobsite, the employer may allow the employee to use it and is not required to reimburse the employee for that equipment.
Questions for OSHA
Still, questions remain. ISEA has asked OSHA for clarification on: (1) whether prescription safety eyewear furnished with permanent sideshields would be paid for by the employer?; (2) whether cooling garments are to be paid for by employers (temperatures in some worksites, such as bakeries, brick manufacturers and foundries are excessive, as are some transportation construction projects, such as paving operations)?, and (3) the full scope and extent of OSHA's requirement that employers pay for reflective work vests.
Workplace health and safety advocates in Congress welcomed OSHA's action. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said OSHA has “done the right thing by requiring employers to pay for the equipment that workers need to do their jobs safely…”
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), who placed into OSHA's FY2008 funding bill a requirement for the agency to make the rule final, echoed Kennedy and expressed frustration with the wait, saying the “rule requiring employer payment for personal protective equipment is long overdue and essential to workers' health and safety on the job.”
When Does the Rule Take Effect?
The effective date of the rule is Feb. 13, 2008; the date by which employers much have this rule implemented is May 15, 2008. Contact ISEA for more information about this rule.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dan Glucksman is director of public affairs for the International Safety Equipment Association, where he directs the legislative and regulatory program for the association and its product groups. His “Washington Watch” column is a regular feature of Protection Update. Reach him at [email protected] or 703-525-1695.
Your Chance to Ask OSHA about Regulations and Programs
Protection Update is delaying launch of its “Ask OSHA” feature until the April 2008 issue. If you have a question for OSHA, send it to Joe Walker, Protection Update editor, [email protected], or to the International Safety Equipment Association, 1901 N. Moore St., Suite 808, Arlington, VA 22209, or by fax to 703-528-2148. Limit your questions to interpretations of OSHA regulations or existing programs, rather than inquiring about policy or legislation.
Be sure your questions reach us by Friday, March 7, 2008, and please include your name, job title, organization, mailing address, phone number and email address so that we can contact you if necessary. For publication, we will keep your identity confidential if you wish.