OSHA Implements New Rules Regarding Payment of Personal Protective Equipment for Employees

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November 30, 2007

Production and maintenance employees often need to wear protective equipment, including personal protective equipment, to be protected from injury, illness, and death caused by exposure to workplace hazards. Personal protective equipment includes many different types of protective equipment that an employee uses or wears, such as fall arrest systems, safety-toe shoes, and protective gloves. In 1999, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a proposal to require employers to pay for all protective equipment, including personal protective equipment, with explicit exceptions for certain safety shoes, prescription safety eyewear, and logging boots. Some OSHA standards specifically require the employer to pay for personal protective equipment. However, most are silent with regard to whether the employer is obligated to pay.
 
On November 14, 2007, OSHA announced a new rule clarifying the employer/employee responsibilities for payment of personal protective equipment. The rule adopted by OSHA requires employers to pay for almost all personal protective equipment that is required by OSHA’s general industry, construction, and maritime standards. Before the rule change, employers were obligated to pay for 95% of the personal protective equipment. The final rule does not create new requirements for employers to provide any new protective equipment. It does not require payment for uniforms, items worn to keep clean, or other items not designated as protective equipment. The rule also contains exceptions where the employer is not required to pay for certain ordinary protective equipment. For example, an employer is not required to pay for safety-toe footwear, prescription safety eyewear, everyday clothing or weather related clothing, or logging boots.
The final rule also provides that if an employee voluntarily purchases protective equipment, the employee is not entitled to reimbursement. However, the employer cannot mandate that employees purchase protective equipment on their own – the employee’s purchase must be entirely voluntary. In addition, the new rule requires that the employer pay for the cost of replacing worn protective equipment. The employer is not required to pay for protective equipment that the employee lost or intentionally damaged. Employers have six months to change their policies to implement the changes in the rule.
If you have questions regarding the above, please contact any of the attorneys in the Employment, Benefits & Labor Relations Practice Group of Ruder Ware.

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