Personal protective equipment (PPE) is essential and often required to shield employees from safety hazards while on-the-job. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ruled in 2008, after years of debate, that employers are required to pay for their employees’ PPE.
OSHA does not specify the method that employers must use to pay for PPE. Many employers maintain a stock of PPE and hand it out as employees need it. Other employers use allowances or reimbursement systems. Any of these methods are acceptable, as long as employees receive the PPE at no cost.
Why Are Employers Responsible?
OSHA believes that when employees pay for their own PPE, they are more likely to purchase the wrong equipment, use the PPE beyond its expected service life and avoid purchasing the equipment at all.
When employers pay for PPE, however, OSHA believes employers select the right PPE for the hazards present in their workplace and ensure the equipment is maintained and replaced as necessary.
Employers are not required to pay for non-specialty safety toe protective footwear, including steel toe shoes and logger boots [29 CFR 1910.266(d)(1)(v)]. Employers are required though to pay for non-standard “specialty” items (e.g. non-skid shoes for floor strippers).
Employers are also not required to pay for non-specialty prescription safety eyewear, such as “regular” safety glasses with prescription lenses. Employers must, however, pay for non-standard “specialty” items (e.g. prescription eyeglass inserts for full-face piece respirators).
Employers are not required to pay for everyday items, such as:
- Long-sleeve shirts
- Street shoes
- Normal work boots
- Skin creams or similar items to protect from weather
Employers are required though to pay for clothing used to protect employees from excessive artificial heat or cold created by the work environment (e.g. employees working in a freezer warehouse who need heavy coats). There is no specific regulatory citation to support this requirement, but OSHA has made this clarification in the preamble to this final rule.
PPE Dos and Don’ts
The following examples further characterize PPE employers are or are not required to pay for.
Employers DO have to pay for:
- Work boots and shoes
- Special boots for longshoremen working logs
- Safety glasses and safety goggles
- Prescription eyewear inserts/lenses for welding and diving helmets
- Face shields
- Hard hats
- Bump caps
- Ear plugs and muffs
- Welding gear
- Firefighting gear
- Items to protect from exposure to infectious agents
- Respirators, including SCBA, atmosphere-supplying respirators (escape only)
- Ladder safety device belts
- Climbing ensembles used by linemen (e.g. belts and climbing hooks)
- Window cleaners’ safety straps
- Personal flotation devices (e.g. life jackets)
- Encapsulating chemical protective suits
- Reflective work vests
- Chemical resistant, rubber insulating and cut-resistant gloves
Employers DO NOT have to pay for:
- Non-essential rain gear
- Back belts
- Long pants
- Dust mask/respirators when used voluntarily (29 CFR 1910.134)