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ASSE Comments On Personal Protection Equipment

September 02, 2004

“In comments on employer payment for employee personal protection equipment (PPE) sent to Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) John Henshaw, American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) President Gene Barfield, CSP, reiterated the “need for employers’ responsibility for providing a safe and healthy workplace for employees which includes providing PPE in nearly all cases.”
The ASSE comments are in response to OSHA’s recent reopening of the rulemaking record on PPE employer requirements originally closed in 1999. OSHA asked for further comments on how to determine the responsibility of employers and employees in providing types of PPE often known as “tools of the trade.’’

“The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) requires employers to provide a safe and healthful workplace for their employees,” Barfield wrote in his August 23 letter. “This mandate includes the financial obligation of employers to provide controls to address hazards that could cause injury or physical harm to their employees. As a result, most PPE should be provided by employers.”

PPE is intended to address hazards not otherwise controllable in the workplace. Therefore, in all instances where PPE is needed, a safe and healthful workplace is not possible without PPE that is correct for the hazards in the workplace, fits properly, is up-to-date and is properly maintained.

“Employers correctly understand that their investment in proper PPE is an economic investment in productivity as well as a means of ensuring that workers go home safe and healthy each day,” Barfield stated. “To drive home that investment, they have recognized that their own involvement in PPE provides the best opportunity to ensure proper and effective use of PPE on their job sites. Recognizing their responsibility for identifying hazards, they provide the follow-through necessary to address those hazards. While employees “may be required to bring such ‘tools of the trade’ to the job site, employers’ responsibilities continue.”
ASSE also notes that employers, through the work of on-staff safety, health and environmental (SH&E) professionals, are in the best position to identify and select the correct equipment and to maintain it properly. Also, most employers have the financial resources both to purchase PPE of necessary quality and to pay for replacements if necessary.

ASSE recommends against OSHA developing a proscriptive regulation to address specific PPE in specific industries. Advances in PPE and changes in manufacturing, construction or even business practices would quickly make such regulations out of date. Instead, ASSE recommends a process be established that would allow stakeholders from a specific industry, including management, labor, safety and health organizations, and the PPE provider industry to engage in negotiated rulemaking “to determine the specific ‘tools of trade’ for each industry.

ASSE members do not believe that leaving PPE purchasing decisions to employees is the safest route to take. One member noted, “where people provide their own tools, let alone PPE, there has been a resistance to keeping current with the best equipment and practices. As an example, I have seen people with sentimental value assigned to their hard hats that “no longer meet manufacturer’s specifications.” Others have found that the PPE purchased by the employee to be old and worn out and that employees generally should not be allowed to bring safety equipment on the job site as this insures that the proper equipment is in good condition and can be utilized.

Founded in 1911, the ASSE is the world’s oldest and largest professional safety organization dedicated to protecting people, property and the environment. Its more than 30,000 members manage, supervise and consult on safety health and environmental issues in all industries, government and education. For more information and for a full copy of ASSE’s PPE comments go to www.asse.org.

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