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.
January 12, 2012
The Honorable Jeff Landry
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Congressman Landry:
Thank you for your August 1, 2011, letter on behalf of your constituents regarding Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations related to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for welders, specifically for welding operations in the oil and gas drilling industry that would require wearing flame resistant clothing (FRC).
OSHA's Enforcement Policy for Flame-Resistant Clothing in Oil and Gas Drilling, Well Servicing, and Production-Related Operations [
(enclosed)] provides general enforcement policy and guidance regarding the specific operations and processes associated with potential flash fire hazards. The clothing selection and hazard assessment criteria referenced in the memorandum are just two of many sources of information employers can use to select PPE that is adequate to protect against the hazards to which their employees are exposed. If an employer's use of engineering and/or administrative controls eliminates employee exposure to flash fire or short-duration thermal exposure hazards (e.g., jet flames, liquid fires, solids fires, and fires associated with oxygen), there would be no requirement for an employer to provide and ensure the use of PPE designed to protect against these hazards.
OSHA's welding, cutting, and brazing standard, 29 C.F.R. §1910.252(b)(3), outlines specific PPE requirements for welders. This provision states that employees exposed to the hazards created by welding, cutting, or brazing operations must be protected by PPE in accordance with the requirements of the general personal protective equipment standard, §1910.132. The welding standard also states that "[a]ppropriate protective clothing required for any welding will vary with the size, nature and location of the work to be performed." Therefore, if welders are exposed to flash fires or short-duration flame exposures, OSHA expects that employers would provide and ensure the use of FRC to protect workers from these hazards.
As you stated in your letter, employees wearing FRC may be exposed to hazards relating to heatstress. Therefore, employers should consider the following when selecting PPE for employees that are exposed to these adverse conditions: provide light weight breathable fabrics and allow employees to drink cold liquids, such as water and other electrolyte replenishing drinks.
Employers should establish work/rest cycles to ensure that employee exposure time to high heat is minimized and work rate is decreased. For additional information on controlling heat illness please refer to the following website: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/index.html. If employers in your district would like to obtain further assistance or guidance on these issues, they can contact the nearest OSHA Regional Office at:
OSHA Region VI Office
525 Griffin Street, Suite 602
Dallas, Texas 75202
(972) 850-4149 FAX
Also, small businesses may obtain assistance and expert help to recognize safety hazards from OSHA's On-site Consultation Program. The program offers free and confidential advice to small and medium-sized businesses in all states across the country, with priority given to high-hazard worksites. On-site Consultation services are separate from enforcement and do not result in penalties or citations. Consultants from state agencies or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice on compliance with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing safety and health management systems. The employer's only obligation is to correct all identified serious hazards within the agreed upon timeframe. The On-site Consultation Program in Louisiana may be reached at:
Louisiana Department of Labor
Office of Workers' Compensation
P.O. Box 94094
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70804-9094
(225) 342-0720; (225) 342-6756 FAX
We understand and share your concern that protecting workers' health and lives on the job not interfere with the efforts we are making to ensure that businesses and jobs in this country grow and thrive on a level playing field.
OSHA has proven over the past 40 years that we can have both jobs and job safety. Employers, unions, academia, and private safety and health organizations pay a great deal more attention to worker protection today than they did prior to enactment of the Occupational Safety Health Act of 1970. Indeed, the results of this law speak for themselves. In 1971, the National Safety Council estimated that 38 workers died on the job every day of the year. Today, the number is 12 per day, with a workforce that is almost twice as large. Injuries and illnesses also are down dramatically - from 10.9 per 100 workers per year in 1972 to less than 4 per 100 workers in 2009.
Some of this decline in injuries, illnesses and fatalities is due to the shift of our economy from manufacturing to service industries. However, it is also clear that much of this progress can be attributed to improved employer safety and health practices encouraged by the existence of a government regulatory agency focused on identifying and eliminating workplace hazards and assisting employers implement best practices to eliminate those hazards.
Thank you for bringing your constituents' concerns to OSHA's attention. We hope that this information is responsive to your inquiry. If we can be of further assistance to you, please do not hesitate to contact Laura de la Torre in the Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs at (202) 693-4600.
David Michaels, PhD, MPH