OSHA Issues Final PPE Rule

After nine years of anticipation and union lawsuits aimed to spur action, OSHA will issue a final rule on employer-paid personal protective equipment (PPE) on Nov. 15. The rule will force employers to pay for PPE, removing the financial burden from employees.

The new rule will not compel employers to supply PPE where none had been required before, and the rule won't dictate what PPE employers must mandate. “Simply put, the rule for employer PPE applies only when an equipment is used by an employer to comply with one of the PPE requirements of OSHA standards,” said OSHA Administrator Edwin Foulke Jr.

Foulke told the press that most employers were already paying for 95 percent of the cost of personal protective equipment and paying the rest will cost approximately $85 million. In addition, he asserted that the new rule would have substantial safety benefits that will result in more than 21,000 fewer occupational injuries per year, which will also save more than $200 million per year in costs including medical and insurance bills, not to mention “reduce the pain and suffering of many employees.”

He explained that the rule does not cover uniforms, caps or other clothing employees wear solely for the purpose of identifying them as part of a particular company. He also said that the rule doesn't apply to items worn to keep employees clean in situations unrelated to occupational safety and health, such as hair nets.

Other exceptions are applied towards ordinary safety-toed footwear, ordinary prescription safety eyewear, logging boots, ordinary clothing and weather-related gear. The final rule also clarifies OSHA’s requirements regarding payment for employee-owned PPE and replacement PPE.

While these clarifications have added several paragraphs to the regulatory text, the final rule provides employees no less protection than they would have received under the 1999 proposed standard, Foulke said.

“This final rule will clarify who is responsible for paying for PPE, which OSHA anticipates will lead to greater compliance and potential avoidance of thousands of workplace injuries each year,” he stated.

Employers have until May 2008 to change their existing PPE policies to accommodate the final rule, Foulke said.

OSHA first announced the rule in 1997 and proposed it in 1999 after the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission concluded that OSHA's existing PPE standard could not be interpreted to require employers to pay for workers' protective equipment. In 1999, OSHA promised to issue the final PPE rule in July 2000, but missed that deadline.

AFL-CIO and UFCW Pleased with Final Rule Announcement

In response to the repeatedly postponed rulemaking, the AFL-CIO and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) filed a lawsuit against the Department of Labor in January 2007, claiming that it has been dragging its heels in promulgating the proposed standard.

California Reps. George Miller and Lucille Roybal-Allard questioned why it took so long for the Department of Labor to issue the final rule if it was first proposed nearly a decade ago. Two months after the labor unions filed the lawsuit against the Department of Labor, the legislators introduced legislation to force the Department to issue a final OSHA standard requiring employers to cover costs for PPE.

“It should have never taken the threat of a lawsuit and legislation to get the Department of Labor to take these simple steps to protect workers from everyday jobsite hazards and prevent thousands of workplace injuries each year,” said Miller, who is the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

During the press briefing, OccupationalHazards.com asked Foulke if the lawsuit had anything to do with the timing of the release of the final rule. He responded the agency has been working on standard all along.

“It [the lawsuit] gave us a set date for us to shoot for, but the standard had been moving along pretty rapidly,” he said.

Both the AFL-CIO and the UFCW said they were pleased to hear that OSHA had finally come out with the finalized rule after nine years.

“It is unfortunate that nine years have passed since the rule was proposed, and that it took a lawsuit by the unions and Congressional intervention before the Bush Administration would act,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. “America's working men and women deserve the proper equipment to keep them safe on the job, each and every day, and we will thoroughly review this rule to make sure it protects them.”

“Workers have spoken out for this rule and now Congress and the courts have forced the DOL to act. Our members will be watching to see this rule is enforced in every workplace,” said UFCW International President Joseph Hansen. “Workers should no longer be required to dip into their own pocket to keep themselves safe from harm at work.”

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