Much Ado About PPE
- By Jerry Laws
- Jan 02, 2008
I’d like to know the true cost of OSHA’s final
rule on paying for PPE, which was issued
the same day I wrote this column (Nov. 15,
2007). Federal agency rules contain economic
impact estimates; this one estimates total
compliance costs of $85.7 million for all
establishments, with the biggest chunks of
that going for abrasion-resistant gloves ($27.8
million), chemical-resistant footwear ($17.6
million), metatarsal guards for footwear
($13.3 million), and chemical-resistant gloves
($10.2 million). But employers usually say the
estimates are way off. They’ve said so this
time, and I believe them.
OSHA solved this as I expected. You’d be
wise to read the rule, but here are the highlights:
• OSHA discarded the “tools of the
trade” approach that could have left
employees paying for virtually any protective
item they wear.
• It refused to require employers to pay
for all PPE, refused to exempt “high
turnover” industries, and did not exempt
• It did not exempt welding PPE,
including masks, aprons, and gloves.
• It told us how many U.S. workers
wear PPE (24.9 million under OSHA jurisdiction)
and what kinds (11.3 million, nonprescription
safety eyewear; 9.2 million,
abrasion-resistant gloves; 6.5 million, goggles;
5.8 million, chemical-resistant gloves;
5.7 million, hard hats).
• It said employers in nearly all industries
already pay for 96.5 percent of their
workers’ PPE, with the chief exception
being foot protection at 50-55 percent.
Thus, steel-toe footwear is this final rule’s
• “Basic,” minimal PPE for the hazards
at hand is all the employers must pay for.
• All five industries—general industry,
construction, shipyards, longshoring, and
marine terminals—have one rule taking
effect at the same time.
• Self-employed independent contractors
• Employers don’t have to pay for
“lost” or “intentionally damaged” PPE,
but they do have to pay for replacement
PPE when the original item wears out.
• Protective apparel worn by employees
who are doing jobs covered by OSHA’s
1910.269(l)(6), the Electric Power Generation,
Transmission and Distribution Standard,
is exempt—but the rule notes if OSHA
requires clothing in a revised 1910.269,
employers would have to pay for it.
How will it play out? Current practices
won’t change: Employers will keep paying for
almost everything, and who pays for PPE will
be collectively bargained in union operations.
Here and there, workers will grumble when
told it’s up to them to buy ordinary raincoats,
snow boots, steel-toe footwear, and voluntarily
used dust masks.
OSHA is candid: Achieving this rule’s
entire estimated benefit of 21,789 averted
injuries and illnesses per year won’t budge the
national injury and illness rate of 4.6 per 100
full-time workers by even 0.1. If it succeeds,
in other words, we won’t be able to see it.
This article originally appeared in the January 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.
Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.