The standard has been on hold since 1999, and the decision to release it was prompted by a lawsuit filed by the AFL-CIO and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW).
George Miller D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, and Lucille Roybal-Allard D-Calif, member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, said that while they are content with the Labor Department's decision, they still will keep a watchful eye to ensure the agency stays true to its word and releases the standard.
“Although it shouldn’t have taken a lawsuit to get the Department of Labor to do the right thing, it’s good to see that the department now plans to require employers to take simple steps to protect workers from everyday workplace hazards,” Miller said. “Our committee will keep a watchful eye on the department to make sure it implements – by November – a strong rule that protects workers.”
Roybal-Allard said she plans to continue working closely with Miller, labor organizations – including the AFL-CIO and UFCW – and other advocates for workers “to make sure the Department of Labor fulfills its long overdue obligation to issue the final rule requiring employers to purchase protective equipment for their employees.”
Miller and Roybal-Allard introduced legislation earlier this month to force the Labor Department to issue a final OSHA standard requiring employers to cover costs for PPE such as respirators, chemical-resistant clothing, metal mesh gloves, lifelines and lanyards, safety glasses and face shields needed by workers to stay safe on the job.
In 2005, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that there were more than 4 million worker injuries and more than 5,700 deaths in the private sector. By OSHA’s own estimates, the implementation of the across-the-board, federal rule requiring employers to provide and pay for PPE would prevent nearly 48,000 injuries and as many as seven fatalities each year, the legislators said.
“For the sake of the health and well-being of our workers, many of whom toil in dangerous and low-paying jobs, I truly appreciate the Department of Labor’s recognition that issuing this life-saving ruling is the right thing to do to protect America’s workers,” Roybal-Allard asserted.
Industry Groups Opposed Union Lawsuit
Industry groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Trucking Association, which were starkly opposed to the union lawsuit, filed an “amici curiae” on March 5, explaining that a proposed rule could bring “serious negative consequences on existing methods of purchasing and distributing personal protective equipment collective bargaining relationships, and day-to-day management of the workplace."
In the response, the groups explained that a court order pressing the Labor department to place the PPE rulemaking ahead of other issues on OSHA's agenda was unjustified. Furthermore, they argued that OSHA lacks the authority to issue a proposed a rule, which they claim is “an economic regulation that has no direct or substantial relationship to employee safety and health.”
Calls made to the three groups for comment of the Labor department's PPE decision were not returned.