After a series of delays, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a final rule requiring employers to pay for most personal protective equipment (PPE) for employees.

The rule states that employers are responsible for most types of safety gear specified in NFPA 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace in addition to basic work site PPE. This includes lifelines, lanyards, face shields and other protective clothing that is not suitable for everyday, off-the-job use.

The final rule contains a few exceptions for ordinary safety-toed footwear, ordinary prescription safety eyewear, logging boots, and ordinary clothing and weather-related gear. Other exceptions include uniforms, items worn to keep clean and other items not classified as PPE.

The rule also clarifies OSHA’s requirements regarding payment for employee-owned PPE and replacement PPE. While these clarifications have added several paragraphs to the regulatory text, the final rule provides employees no less protection than they would have received under the 1999 proposed standard.

Employees still may choose to wear their own PPE, but employers are not required to reimburse them. However, employers are responsible for ensuring the employees’ PPE provides adequate protection. The final rule also states an employer does not have to pay for replacement PPE if employees lose or intentionally damage their PPE.

However, some employers maintain collective bargaining agreements. The rule states employers with collective bargaining agreements will not gain exemption from the rule.

“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,” said Edwin G. Foulke Jr., assistant secretary of labor for OSHA. “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.”

OSHA anticipates this rule will have substantial safety benefits that will result in more than 21,000 fewer occupational injuries per year. The effective date for the rule is Feb. 13, 2008. However, OSHA will not begin enforcing it until May 15, 2008.

For more information, visit www.osha.govEC