Virtually all surfacing shops require personal protective equipment (PPE) for their employees in some form or another. Typically, safety eyewear, protective gloves and footwear, hearing protection and some type of respiratory protection, ranging from a dust mask to a full respirator, are required. Some shops may also require uniforms or caps used to cover or protect employees’ clothing.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently announced a new rule clarifying employer responsibilities regarding payment for PPE. The new rule requires employers to pay for almost all PPE that is required by OSHA’s general industry standards. While many employers currently pay for employee PPE, OSHA estimates the overall cost for employers under the new rule to total $85 million per year.
OSHA believes that when employees pay for their own PPE, they are more likely to purchase the wrong equipment; they may use the PPE beyond its expected service life; or they may avoid purchasing the equipment at all. When employers pay for PPE, they are more likely to select the right PPE for the hazards present in their workplaces. OSHA believes that when employers pay for PPE, the equipment is maintained and replaced as necessary, and employers will take more responsibility for PPE selection and use. OSHA expects this change will result in 21,000 fewer injuries per year.
Enforcement of the new rule began May 15.
THE NEW RULE
OSHA’s new PPE rule addresses only the issue of who pays for PPE; it does not require employers to provide PPE where none was required before. The rule for employer payment of PPE only applies when equipment is used by an employer to comply with one of the PPE requirements in OSHA’s standards. In other words, when an employer selects a specific type of PPE to be used at the workplace to comply with a standard, the employer is required to pay for it.
EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULE
The new rule contains exceptions for certain ordinary protective equipment, including:
Non-specialty Safety-toe Footwear: An employer can avoid paying for non-specialty safety-toe protective footwear (including steel-toe shoes or steel-toe boots), only if the employer permits such items to be worn off the jobsite. If the employer requires employees to keep safety-toe footwear at the workplace, the employer must pay for it. Specialty items like non-skid shoes for floor strippers require employer payment.
Built-in Metatarsal Guards: Metatarsal guards protect the lower part of the foot, above the toes, if a large sheet were to slip or drop on the foot. When an employer provides metatarsal guards and allows the employee, at his or her request, to use shoes or boots with built-in metatarsal protection, the employer is not required to pay for the metatarsal shoes or boots. An allowance system, offering employees the choice between using a metatarsal guard provided and paid for by the employer or a metatarsal shoe or boot with some portion of the cost paid for by the employer, remains an acceptable practice under the new rule.
Non-specialty Prescription Eyewear: The exception applies only if the employer permits such items to be worn off the jobsite. If the employer requires employees to keep non-specialty prescription eyewear at the workplace, the employer must pay for it. Specialty items, like prescription eyeglass inserts for full-facepiece respirators require employer payment.
Uniforms and Sanitary Clothing: The new rule does not require payment for uniforms, caps or other clothing worn solely to identify a person as an employee. The rule also does not require payment for items worn to keep employees clean for purposes unrelated to safety or health, or for items worn for product safety, consumer safety or patient safety and health. Other federal regulations or state laws may, however, require employer payment for such items.
Everyday Clothing and Weather-Protective Clothing: Under the new rule, employers are not required to pay for everyday clothing (e.g., long-sleeve shirts, long pants, street shoes, normal work boots), even when the employer requires employees to use these items and the clothing provides protection from a workplace hazard. Nor is an employer required to pay for ordinary clothing used solely for protection from the weather (e.g., winter coats, gloves, rubber boots, hats, sunglasses, sunscreen). However, if special equipment or extraordinary clothing is needed to protect the employee from unusually severe weather conditions, the employer is required to pay for the protection.