The AFL-CIO and the United Food and Commercial Workers sued the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on Jan. 3, 2007, over OSHA’s failure to complete a rulemaking that would require employers to pay for personal protective equipment (PPE).

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, asks that the court direct the secretary of labor to complete the PPE rule within 60 days of the court’s order. The rule would require employers to pay for costs of protective clothing, safety harnesses, face shields, gloves and other equipment used by millions of workers to protect them from job hazards.

The original PPE standards issued by OSHA in 1994 required the use of various types of safety gear, but did not say who should foot the bill. While many companies furnish PPE to their workers, not all do.

OSHA began a follow-up rulemaking in 1999, after the OSHA Review Commission ruled that the existing PPE standard could not be interpreted as requiring employers to pay for their employees’ protective equipment.

But the PPE rulemaking has moved slowly, as OSHA turned its attention to higher-priority regulatory issues, including beryllium and hexavalent chromium. A further complication is that some PPE items are considered “tools of the trade,” that traditionally have been purchased and owned by employees. And in some industries, responsibility for providing PPE is covered by labor agreements.

The National Electrical Contractors Association has twice commented on the PPE rule-in-progress: in 1999 and again in 2004.      EC