ASSE: Employers Should Provide PPE

Employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace for employees, which includes providing personal protective equipment (PPE) "in nearly all cases," said Gene Barfield, CSP, president of the American Society of Safety Engineers, in comments about employer payment for PPE sent to OSHA Administrator John Henshaw.

The ASSE comments are in response to OSHA's recent reopening of the rulemaking record on PPE employer requirements originally closed in 1999. OSHA asked for further comments on how to determine the responsibility of employers and employees in providing types of PPE often known as "tools of the trade."

"The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) requires employers to provide a safe and healthful workplace for their employees," Barfield wrote in his August 23 letter. "This mandate includes the financial obligation of employers to provide controls to address hazards that could cause injury or physical harm to their employees. As a result, most PPE should be provided by employers."

PPE is intended to address hazards not otherwise controllable in the workplace. Therefore, in all instances where PPE is needed, a safe and healthful workplace is not possible without PPE that is correct for the hazards in the workplace, fits properly, is up-to-date and is properly maintained, according to ASSE.

"Employers correctly understand that their investment in proper PPE is an economic investment in productivity as well as a means of ensuring that workers go home safe and healthy each day," Barfield stated. "To drive home that investment, they have recognized that their own involvement in PPE provides the best opportunity to ensure proper and effective use of PPE on their job sites. Recognizing their responsibility for identifying hazards, they provide the follow-through necessary to address those hazards. While employees may be required to bring such 'tools of the trade' to the job site, employers' responsibilities continue."

ASSE recommends against OSHA developing a proscriptive regulation to address specific PPE in specific industries. Advances in PPE and changes in manufacturing, construction or even business practices would quickly make such regulations out of date, according to the association. Instead, ASSE recommends a process be established that would allow stakeholders from a specific industry, including management, labor, safety and health organizations and the PPE provider industry to engage in negotiated rulemaking to determine the specific "tools of trade" for each industry.

Said one ASSE member, "It is just good business to provide equipment so that we control quality and type so that injuries are prevented. I'm sure we save far more in the long run by preventing injuries than we spend on PPE."

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