OSHA Updates PPE Standards

March 15, 2011
Several key changes help clarify the use of personal protective equipment

On February 15, 2011, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a revised directive that provides enforcement guidance on determining whether employers have complied with OSHA's personal protective equipment (PPE) standards.  The Enforcement Guidance for Personal Protective Equipment in General Industry, CPL 02-01-050, is the latest word from OSHA on PPE, and an important document for employers and employees alike.

PPE standards have evolved greatly to keep pace with scientific advances in detecting and eliminating workplace hazards, developments in the type of materials and fabrics that can be used to abate hazards, and the range of respiratory protection and personal protection tools. PPE has become more sophisticated as a result of these advances and the standards' reach has expanded over time. [pullquote]

OSHA revised the general industry standards for PPE in 1994 when it added provisions that required employers to select appropriate PPE based on the nature of the hazard present or likely to be present in the workplace, prohibited use of damaged or defective PPE and mandated training of employees so that they use appropriate PPE properly.

In 2007, OSHA required employers in certain industries to pay for most types of required PPE. OSHA again revised the PPE standards in 2009 for eye- and face-protective devices, head protection and foot protection. The new enforcement guidance, which became effective on February 10, 2011, replaces Inspection Guidelines for 29 CFR 1910 Subpart I, the revised Personal Protective Equipment Standards for General Industry, issued in June 1995, and reflects the changes set forth in 2007 and 2009.

Important Changes
There are several key changes. First, the guidance clarifies what type of PPE employers must provide at no cost to workers and when employers are required to pay for PPE, including respirators, personal fall protection, hearing protection, hard hats, firefighting equipment and metatarsal protective footwear. The guidance also spells out when employers are not required to pay for PPE.

Second, the directive clarifies the PPE payment requirements for PPE worn off the job, what PPE must remain at the job site and provides guidance for employee-owned PPE. The guidance lists examples of PPE and other items exempted from the employer payment requirements.

Third, the guidance contains enforcement policies that reflect court and Review Commission decisions concerning PPE. Appendix A has a chart that lists, by standard number and date, a summary description of all interpretation letters that address Sections 1910.132-.138 of 29 CFR.

Fourth, the guidance provides information that allows employers to use PPE selected in accordance with the most recent national consensus standards. This information is especially useful for employers as it can be difficult to select the most appropriate PPE for a workplace hazard.

Fifth, OSHA amended the provision that requires safety shoes to comply with a specific American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard. Now employers may select footwear that is at least as effective as footwear that is constructed in accordance with ANSI standards.

According to OSHA, the new guidance also supports the U.S. Department of Labor's National Strategic Plan Outcome Goal 3A for increased emphasis on reducing workplace injuries, illness and fatalities. The guidance provides OSHA compliance officers and others in government and private sectors with information about PPE selection and guidance useful to prevent injury to workers. The guidance also supports the Site-Specific Targeting (SST) program for general industry employment and provides available general industry PPE safety and health information in a web-based format with electronic links to related information.

The new directive is well-written and useful in that the document instructs OSHA enforcement personnel on both OSHA's interpretations of those standards and procedures for enforcing them. A thorough review of the guidance is the best protection for employers against allegations of non-compliance. It is equally important that employees read the directive to ensure they know their rights, duties and obligations.

OSHA does not release new enforcement guidance all that often. Take some time to review this new directive to be well-situated to be in compliance with the law and comforted that employees are properly protected from workplace hazards.

Lynn L. Bergeson is Chemical Processing's Regulatory Editor. You can e-mail her at [email protected].

Lynn is managing director of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C., a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that concentrates on chemical industry issues. The views expressed herein are solely those of the author. This column is not intended to provide, nor should be construed as, legal advice.

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