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OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov.
December 9, 1996
Mr. Barry Bridges
Vice President of Resources
Sanders Brothers, Incorporated
P.O. Box 188
Gaffney, South Carolina 29342
Dear Mr. Bridges:
This is a response to your letter of November 5, addressed to Mr. Joseph A. Dear, Assistant Secretary for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), concerning the issuance of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and who should pay for this equipment (the employer or the employee). Your letter was forwarded to the Directorate of Compliance Programs for response. I apologize for the delay in responding to your inquiry.
Specifically, your inquiry concerned OSHA's opinion of your company continuing to charge employees for items such as safety helmets and safety glasses, if the employee failed to bring the equipment to work. Your letter indicated that the company intends to pay for and replace any PPE in the first issuance and normal damaged PPE, as long as the employee presents the old equipment for replacement.
Enclosed is a copy of an OSHA memorandum, dated October 18, 1994, addressing employer obligation to pay for PPE. OSHA policy requires employers to provide and to pay for personal protective equipment (PPE) which is required for a worker to do his or her job safely to comply with OSHA standards. Although the memorandum does not directly address the issue of who pays for lost or misplaced PPE that was initially provided by an employer free of charge, it does state that certain matters of payment may be left to labor-management negotiations. The circumstances under which equipment is lost or misplaced are clearly variable, and in many cases it would be reasonable for the employer to replace lost equipment. In other circumstances, for example, where a pattern of carelessness regarding the maintenance and possession of PPE such as safety helmets and safety glasses is evident, disciplinary measures such as the one you mentioned in your letter, charging employees the replacement cost, may be appropriate in instances where the employee was given ample opportunities to avoid charges, but does not seem to understand or appreciate the importance of keeping up with his or her equipment.
We appreciate your interest in employee safety and health. If we can be of further assistance, please contact Russelle McCollough, on (202)-219-8031 ext. 105.
John B. Miles, Jr., Director
Directorate of Compliance Programs
October 18, 1994
MEMORANDUM FOR: REGIONAL ADMINISTRATORS HEADS OF DIRECTORATES FROM: JAMES W. STANLEY DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY SUBJECT: Employer Obligation to Pay for Personal Protective Equipment
It is important that a uniform approach be taken by all OSHA offices with respect to the question of employer responsibility for payment of the cost of personal protective equipment (PPE). Under certain circumstances, employers may be obliged to pay for personal protective equipment, as they would pay for other engineering and administrative controls. Please advise your staff to apply the following guidance when dealing with this issue.
The personal protective equipment standards at 29 CFR 1910.132 through .138 establish the employer's obligation to provide personal protective equipment to employees.
"Protective equipment, including personal protective equipment for eyes, face, head and extremities, protective clothing, respiratory devices and protective shields and barriers, shall be provided, used and maintained in a sanitary and reliable condition wherever it is necessary by reasons of hazards of processes or environment, chemical hazards, radiological hazards or mechanical irritants encountered in a manner capable of causing injury or impairment in the function of any part of the body through absorption, inhalation or physical contact." (29 CFR 1910.132(a))
In order to accommodate work situations in which it is customary, as an exception, for workers in a particular trade to provide their own PPE, the standard acknowledges that employees may provide their own equipment, but does not specify that practice as the norm; instead, the standard underscores the employer's obligation to assure that such equipment is adequate and that it is properly maintained.
The "worker-provided" clause on the PPE standard (1910.132(b)), now also codified for the construction industry at 1926.95(b), has raised questions as to when employers are required to pay for PPE. This memorandum is intended to clarify the situation.
OSHA has interpreted its general PPE standard, as well as specific standards, to require employers to provide and to pay for personal protective equipment required by the company for the worker to do his or her job safely and in compliance with OSHA standards. Where equipment is very personal in nature and is usable by workers off the job, the matter of payment may be left to labor-management negotiations. Examples of PPE that would not normally be used away from the worksite include, but are not limited to: welding gloves, wire mesh gloves, respirators, hard hats, specialty glasses and goggles (e.g., designed for laser or ultraviolet radiation protection), specialty foot protection (such as metatarsal shoes and linemen's shoes with built in gaffs), face shields and rubber gloves, blankets, cover-ups and hot sticks and other live-line tools used by power generation workers. Examples of PPE that is personal in nature and often used away from the worksite include non-specialty safety glasses, safety shoes, and cold-weather outer wear of the type worn by construction workers. However, shoes or outerwear subject to contamination by carcinogens or other toxic or hazardous substances which cannot be safely worn off-site must be paid for by the employer. Failure of the employer to pay for PPE that is not personal and not used away from the job is a violation and shall be cited.
Compliance officers shall be informed of this policy and advised to evaluate carefully assertions by employers that particular items of personal protective equipment should be paid for by employees.
Please provide a copy of this memorandum to State designees.
Questions on this policy may be directed to Russelle R. McCollough in the Office of General Industry Compliance Assistance at 202-219-8041 ext. 105.