By: Michael E. Goldberg, CIH, CSP
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is a broad term used to describe worn personal protection that includes gloves, eyewear protection and hearing protection, as well as masks, respirators, chemical resistant suits, and medical gowns. PPE is essential for preventing hearing loss and other injuries and illnesses in construction, industrial settings, factories, and healthcare. PPE is even an important safety device to ensure the wellbeing of the do-it-yourselfer at home. As an industrial hygienist and safety expert I am frequently requested to analyze and assess matters that put into question the responsibility, application, and requirements of PPE in the workplace. The confusion as to who is responsible for providing, paying for, and training in the use and limitations of PPE is and always remains a question for employers, employees, and outside contractors.
For General and Construction requirements regarding PPE, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under 1910.132 and 1926.95 requires that PPE be utilized to protect the employee from associated workplace hazards wherever it is necessary. PPE “shall be provided by the employer at no cost to the employees.” Some workers/employees may prefer to purchase and maintain their own required PPE. However, OSHA requires that the employer is responsible to assure that the employee-owned PPE is adequate for the specific work task, and that there is a reasonable effort to assure the employee performs the proper maintenance of the PPE, as required by OSHA.
It is important that prior to initial use of PPE the employer performs a hazard assessment to determine what workplace hazards are likely to be present and whether the hazard can be eliminated and/or substituted. If it is determined by the employer that PPE is necessary, the employer is required to provide and pay for the employee(s) PPE, as discussed above, and to provide training on the limitations and use of the PPE.
The OSHA PPE standard is quite clear that the employer is responsible to provide their employees with PPE. However, there are circumstances where an employer, like a general contractor or property owner, contracts a specific trade, such as an electrician or a plumber, to perform work at their site. This raises the question as to whether the engaging employer is responsible for providing PPE to employees of their engaged contractor at their work site? The answer is that it is not simple, it depends. If the independent contractor hired to do a specific job is a sole proprietor and/or self-employed, engaging employers can ask the independent contractors to provide and maintain their own PPE. It is helpful when both parties agree on this in writing ahead of time. However, the engaged party may be an employee of another company with an independent responsibility for providing their employees with the proper PPE for the contracted job. Further, certain work environments warrant that the contracted company work with their client and/or host to ensure that the PPE the contractor will be providing for their employees is appropriate for the contracted work task and work site.
Understanding the nuances of OSHA requirements specifically for PPE can be tedious. According to contracts or agreements different employers may have responsibility or shared responsibility for providing PPE for specific work tasks. Also, the employee(s) have a responsibility to follow the requirements of their employer’s PPE program. There may be times when the worker(s)/employee(s) simply did not comply with their employer(s) provided directions or instruction or training. Regardless, the technical evaluation of OSHA required PPE programs is equally beneficial to all parties, which include plaintiff or defense matters.
At Consulting Engineers & Scientists, we can provide assistance in evaluating the OSHA requirements related to PPE to determine the responsibility of the associated parties, and whether this was a cause or factor in a workplace incident. Call us with your PPE matters.