Footwear, Prescription Eyewear, Some Apparel Exempt from 'Employer Pays'

OSHA today said it will publish the "employer pays for PPE" final rule in tomorrow's Federal Register, ending the industry's long wait for an answer but probably not ending the controversy. OSHA said the rule will require that employers provide "all PPE, with a few exceptions" at no cost to employees, but the agency then went on to describe significant exemptions: ordinary safety-toed footwear, ordinary prescription safety eyewear, logging boots, and ordinary clothing and weather-related gear. The final rule finishes a 1999 rulemaking.

The announced said OSHA anticipates the rule will prevent more than 21,000 occupational injuries per year. "Employees exposed to safety and health hazards may need to wear personal protective equipment to be protected from injury, illness, and death caused by exposure to those hazards," OSHA chief Edwin Foulke Jr. said. "This final rule will clarify who is responsible for paying for PPE, which OSHA anticipates will lead to greater compliance and potential avoidance of thousands of workplace injuries each year."

Congress has pushed hard for a final rule. The issue stems from an October 1997 OSHRC decision that OSHA and the Labor Department lost, Secretary of Labor v. Union Tank Car Co., No. 96-0563 (www.oshrc.gov/decisions/html_1997/96-0563.html), which voided a citation against the employer based on its failure to pay for workers' PPE. OSHA has wrestled ever since with a standard that would specify employers' duty to pay when employer stakeholder groups said many kinds of PPE are personal "tools of the trade" that workers should have to buy. OSHA today also said, "the final rule provides employees no less protection than they would have received under the 1999 proposed standard." It includes an enforcement deadline six months from tomorrow to give employers time to change their existing PPE payment policies if necessary.

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