Workplace injuries are a big liability for employers. Over 13,000 employees are injured in Hawaii every year due to work hazards, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Source). In order to better protect employees, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to follow safety standards and enforce rules that prevent bodily harm. This includes the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Personal protective equipment is defined by OSHA as “equipment worn to minimize exposure to a variety of hazards.” It seems fairly straightforward, but employer responsibilities for necessary PPE vary depending on the type of equipment.
What PPE are employers required to provide for employees? What can employers reasonably (and legally) expect employees to pay for out-of-pocket? Let’s take a look.
Employer Responsibilities for PPE
According to OSHA (PDF), employer requirements for PPE include the following:
- The employer must perform an inspection of the premises to identify and control safety hazards.
- The employer must provide appropriate PPE to all employees who will be working in areas where risk cannot be adequately controlled or eliminated.
- The employer must train employees in the proper use and care of all PPE.
- The employer must provide maintenance or replace PPE that has been damaged in any way.
- The employer must periodically review and reevaluate their PPE program.
What PPE are employers required to pay for:
Employers are obligated to pay for the following articles of PPE.
- Foot protection including rubber boots with steel toes
- Non-prescription eye protection including goggles
- Prescription lenses or inserts for full face respirators
- All components of fire-fighting gear (helmet, gloves, boots, suits, etc.)
- Hard hats and bump caps
- Hearing protection
- Welding protection
- Reflective work vests
What PPE are employers NOT required to pay for:
Employers are not obligated to pay for the following articles of PPE.
- Non-specialty safety-toe protective footwear and eyewear if the employer allows employees to take the items off the worksite
- Normal clothing such as pants, shirts, and shoes that employees would wear outside of work
- Articles of clothing and creams used for weather protection including rain jackets and sunscreen
- Hairnets and gloves
- Lifting belts
- Any item of PPE that needs to be replaced because the employee has lost or purposefully damaged it
“We always recommended that employers consider paying for PPE,” says ALTRES Director of Risk Management John Fielding. “It’s good for morale and shows that employers are committed to a focus on safety.”
Related: How to Get Employees to Wear Personal Protective Equipment
All regulations and exceptions can be read in their entirety through the OSHA website, Employer Payment for Personal Protective Equipment; Final Rule as well as the State of Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health Directive.
Frequently Asked Questions about PPE
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about employer provided PPE.
Question: My employee is asking to wear their own pair of steel-toed boots. Is it necessary to provide them with a pair or can they use their own?
Answer: If an employee provides their own PPE, it is not necessary to provide it to them. Employees can use their own PPE as long as they understand that it is completely voluntary and understand how to properly use it. It is the duty of the employer to ensure that all PPE worn on the job meets the required standards.
Question: I provided my employees with PPE and proper training but I still catch them disregarding the rules. If an employee gets injured while not wearing a piece of PPE, what can I do?
Answer: You can discipline them but you need to be careful. Disciplining an employee who injures themselves while violating a safety rule could be viewed as a retaliation which is protected under Section 11(c) of the OSH Act. Employers must be able to show that the decision to discipline was unrelated to the fact that the employee got injured and was instead based on the employee’s violation of the safety rule.
Learn more: Can You Discipline an Injured Worker Who Violates Safety Rules?
Question: How often does PPE need to be replaced?
Answer: There is no law requiring a specific time frame regarding PPE maximum use. In general, manufacturers give information on how to identify the limiting date of use or maximum service time and should be followed accordingly.
Question: Do I need to provide PPE to independent contractors?
Answer: No. An independent contractor is not an employee under the OSH Act so is not covered by OSHA standards.
Worksite safety is a team effort
Understanding what your obligations are as an employer will allow you to choose and implement the right PPE to keep all of your employees safe. When your employees are equipped with the right gear, you can be confident that workplace injuries will be kept to a minimum.
ALTRES understands the importance of safety and risk management at your worksite. As part of our employment services, we make it easy for employees who want their own gear to purchase required PPE, including hard hats, steel-toed shoes, gloves, safety eyewear, high-visibility shirts, and earplugs.