The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for their employees when the employees are exposed to certain workplace hazards. Over the years, OSHA and employers have grappled over the question of what items employers are required to provide at the employers’ expense. This article contains PPE program enforcement guidance.
This Compliance Overview is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel for legal advice.
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Under a final rule that became effective in early 2008, employers must pay for any PPE that is required to comply with OSHA standards, except under certain limited circumstances. In 2011, OSHA provided a list of example PPE items that employers are and are not required to provide at their own expense. OSHA also provided examples of violations for which employers may expect to receive citations under the final rule.
PPE Program Sectioned Information
- Establish a PPE program that includes training for employees.
- Obtain written certification from employees to show they attended and understood the PPE training.
- Perform annual reviews of the PPE program.
- Pay for and provide any PPE that OSHA standards require employees to use, unless an exception applies.
- Pay for and provide replacements for required PPE items that are damaged by normal wear and tear
- Employers are not required to pay for PPE used solely for purposes unrelated to safety and health.
Employers’ Duty to Conduct PPE Program Assessment and Training
As a general matter, OSHA maintains that employers are responsible for identifying potential and actual hazards, as well as establishing requirements for PPE. Management must also establish and review related training and programs at least annually, as well as when equipment or facility additions or modifications cause changes in PPE requirements. Upper management and supervisors are both responsible for enforcing these programs.
In addition to the initial and yearly assessments, employers have a duty to train their employees in the proper use of the PPE. This training must include information about:
- When and what PPE is necessary;
- How to don, doff, adjust and wear the PPE;
- PPE limitations; and
- The proper care, maintenance, useful life and disposal of PPE.
Employers are required to obtain written certification (signed paperwork) that employees attended and understood the training. OSHA may issue citations to employers that fail to comply with these requirements.
Examples of PPE That Must Be Provided at Employers’ Expense
Unless an exception applies, employers must provide any PPE that their employees are required to use under OSHA standards. The 2011 guidance includes a list of example PPE items that employers must supply at the employers’ expense.
This list is not exhaustive and may not contain the specific PPE an employer may determine is necessary after conducting a hazard assessment. Employers should look closely at their companies’ hazard assessments to supplement this list.
PPE PROGRAM: Employer Expected to Cover Expense
- Prescription eyewear inserts or lenses for full-face piece respirator
- Metatarsal foot protection
- Special boots for longshoremen working logs
- Rubber boots with steel toes
- Shoe covers, toe caps and metatarsal guards
- Non-prescription eye protection
- Prescription eyewear inserts or lenses for welding and diving helmets
- Face shields
- Laser safety goggles
- Firefighting PPE, such as helmet, gloves, boots, proximity suits and full gear
- Hard hats or Bump Caps
- Hearing protection
- Welding PPE
- Items used in medical or laboratory settings to protect from exposure to infectious agents (such as aprons, lab coats, goggles, disposable gloves, shoe covers, etc.)
- Non-specialty gloves used for protection from hazards such as dermatitis, severe cuts and abrasions
- Rubber sleeves
- Aluminized gloves
- Chemical-resistant gloves, aprons and clothing
- Rubber insulating gloves
- Mesh cut-proof gloves, mesh or leather aprons
- Barrier creams, unless used solely for weather-related protection
- Self-contained breathing apparatus and atmosphere-supplying respirators used for escape purposes
- Personal fall protection
- Ladder safety device belts
- Climbing ensembles used by linemen, such as belts and climbing hooks
- Window cleaners’ safety straps
- Personal flotation devices
- Encapsulating chemical protective suits
- Reflective work vests
Exceptions to the Employer Payment Requirement
Employers should also consult their hazard assessment when deciding whether they must provide an item at their employees’ expense. While employers may require an employee to pay for PPE that was lost or intentionally destroyed, employees are not responsible for damage caused to their PPE by normal wear and tear.
Furthermore, employers are under no obligation to provide their employees with PPE that exceeds the standards and requirements set by OSHA, as long as adequate PPE is available for employee use.
PPE PROGRAM: Employer NOT Expected to Cover Expense
- Non-specialty safety-toe protective footwear, such as steel-toe boots, that employees are allowed to wear off the jobsite
- Non-specialty prescription safety eyewear that employees are allowed to wear off the jobsite
- Sturdy work shoes
- Lineman’s boots
- Sunglasses or sunscreen
- Non-specialty gloves that are not required under an OSHA standard, such as gloves used solely for keeping clean or warm
- Ordinary cold-weather gear, such as coats, parkas and winter boots
- Logging boots required under 29 CFR 1910.266(d)(1)(v)
- Back belts
- Uniforms, caps or other clothing worn solely to identify a person as an employee
- Dust masks and respirators used under the voluntary use provisions in 29 CFR 1910.134.
- Items worn to keep employees clean for purposes unrelated to safety or health, such as denim coveralls and aprons
- Long-sleeve shirts and long pants
- Ordinary rain gear
- Items worn for product or consumer safety rather than employee safety and health, such as hairnets worn solely to protect food products from contamination (as long as they are not used to comply with machine guarding requirements) and plastic or rubber gloves worn solely to prevent food contamination during meal preparation (not including cut-proof gloves worn to prevent lacerations)
- Items worn for patient, rather than employee, safety and health
- Travel time and related expenses for employees to shop for PPE
The following are examples of potential workplace conditions that are likely to cause an employer to receive an OSHA citation:
- Providing the PPE required by an OSHA standard, but charging employees for the equipment by deducting its cost from the employees’ pay;
- Providing and paying for initial employee PPE in accordance with an OSHA standard, but later charging employees for replacing it. OSHA allows for an exception to this violation for any employee who intentionally loses or damages his or her PPE;
- Allowing employees to purchase their initial, required PPE and reimbursing them more than one billing cycle or pay period after the purchase takes place. Though OSHA allows for PPE reimbursement systems, the delayed payment of PPE reimbursement should not exceed one billing cycle or one pay period; and
- Permitting employees to voluntarily use their own required PPE and then charging them for employer-provided PPE when employees decide to discontinue the use of their own PPE. An employee may voluntarily use his or her own equipment without employer reimbursement, provided that the PPE is adequate, meets OSHA standards and the employer allows its use.
It is also important to note that OSHA issues citations on a “per-employee basis,” meaning an employer could receive a separate citation and fine for each employee not in compliance. This can result in severe penalties. The exact amount of these penalties is difficult to assess, because they can vary depending on the employer’s industry and the type of violation.
PPE Program Payment Questions and Answers
Q1: Are employers required to pay for lineman belts and hooks when used to comply with an OSHA standard?
Yes. Lineman belts and hooks provide protection to employees from falls while climbing or performing work. This equipment is considered PPE and employers must pay for it when their employees use it to comply with an OSHA standard.
Q2: Electrical employees may use fiberglass poles known as “hot sticks” to push over power lines when they are working on the lines. Are these poles regarded as PPE?
No. While some specific and specialized tools have protective characteristics, such as electrically insulated “hot sticks,” this equipment is more properly viewed as an engineering control that isolates the employee from the hazard. Therefore, they are not covered by the PPE payment standard. However, because they are an engineering control method, employers must pay for this equipment.
Q3: As it pertains to prescription eyewear, would non-specialty safety eyewear furnished with permanent side shields be paid for by the employer?
The PPE payment rule specifically exempts non-specialty prescription safety eyewear. Non-specialty safety eyewear worn to protect an employee from impact hazards typically has removable or permanent side shields to provide this protection. Employers are not required to pay for prescription safety eyewear with these features as long as the employer provides safety eyewear that fits over the employee’s prescription lenses.
Q4: In some situations, employees are required to wear shoes with slip-resistant soles that are uniform in color. The employees wear the shoes to and from work and in other places outside of the work environment. These shoes are indistinguishable from ordinary “street” shoes and many different types of shoes with rubber soles. These employees are not exposed to hazards such as crushing or penetrating injuries or falling or rolling objects, requiring safety shoes with steel toes or metatarsal protection. In such cases, would the slip-resistant shoes required here rise to the level of safety footwear with additional protection or more specialized protection, and, therefore, must they be provided at no cost?
No. Employers are not required to pay for non-specialty shoes that offer some slip-resistant characteristics but are otherwise ordinary clothing in nature.
Q5: What are some examples of equipment that the standard does not require employers to pay for?
Employers are not required to pay for items worn to keep an employee clean for purposes unrelated to safety or health such as denim coveralls and aprons worn solely to prevent soiling of clothing or skin. In addition, employers do not have to pay for uniforms, caps or other clothing worn solely to identify a person as an employee.
Q6: When an employer decides to use flame-resistant clothing (FRC) to protect employees from any type of fire exposure hazard (such as flash fire or arc flash) is the employer required to pay for the FRC?
Yes, employers are required to provide, ensure use and maintain protective clothing in a sanitary and reliable condition whenever it is necessary due to hazards that are capable of causing injury in any part of the body. Where employees are exposed to electrical hazards (such as substations or electrical panels that present the potential for arc flash), employers should refer to regulatory provisions regarding PPE safeguards. Where there are flash fire hazards in general industry occupations (such as in the oil and gas industry and in petroleum chemical plants) employers are required to pay for FRC. More information relating to FRC use in the oil and gas industry can be found in OSHA’s 2010 memorandum on this topic.
Source for this section: Occupational Safety and Health Administration