Personal Protective Equipment

Foot Protection: Who Foots the Bill?

OSHA requires foot protection be worn to guard against a variety of hazards, but the question of who must pay for it is not as simple as it seems.

Each year there are tens of thousands of disabling foot injuries, and requiring at-risk workers to wear appropriate foot protection isn’t just good safety practice – it’s the law.

National Safety Council statistics indicate that there are more than 400 work-related foot injuries every day, at an estimated cost of $6,000 per injury. And a Bureau of Labor Statistics study found that 75 percent of foot injuries occurred when workers were not in compliance with OSHA’s foot-protection regulations.

Legal Requirements

OSHA requires every employer to conduct a hazard assessment to determine workplace risks, and that includes foot-injury hazards. In addition, OSHA’s occupational foot protection standard, 29 CFR 1910.136, requires employers  to ensure that each affected employee uses protective footwear when working in areas where there is a danger of foot injuries due to falling or rolling objects, objects piercing the sole, or where the employee’s feet are exposed to electrical hazards.

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Finally, OSHA requires employers to train affected employees on:

  • When personal protective equipment (PPE) is necessary

  • What PPE is necessary

  • How to properly don, doff, adjust, and wear PPE

  • The limitations of the PPE

  • The proper care, maintenance, useful life and disposal of the PPE

Employees must then demonstrate an understanding of those training elements — and the ability to use PPE properly — before being allowed to perform work requiring the use of PPE.

Who Pays?

OK – so we have determined which workers need to wear foot protection and what training they need. Now the $64 question: Who has to pay for required foot protection?

You would think that question would have been answered earlier this year, when an OSHA final rule went into effect that generally requires employers to pay for the PPE provided. However, the rule has a number of exceptions, and several of those pertain to foot protection. These include:

Non-specialty safety-toe protective footwear — The regulatory text makes clear that employers are not required to pay for ordinary safety-toe footwear, so long as the employer allows the employee to wear these items off the jobsite.

Metatarsal protection — The final rule clarifies that an employer is not required to pay for shoes with integrated metatarsal protection as long as the employer provides and pays for metatarsal guards that attach to the shoes.

Logging boots — The logging standard does not require employers to pay for logging boots, but leaves the responsibility for payment open to employer and employee negotiation. The new final rule makes clear that logging boots will continue to be excepted from the employer payment rule.

Everyday clothing — The final rule recognizes that there are certain circumstances where long-sleeve shirts, long pants, street shoes, normal work boots, and other similar types of clothing could serve as PPE. However, where this is the case, the final rule excepts this everyday clothing from the employer payment rule. Similarly, employers generally are not required to pay for ordinary clothing used solely for protection from weather, such as winter coats, jackets, gloves, and parkas.

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The final rule generally requires employers to pay for replacement PPE. One limited exception is when an employee has lost or intentionally damaged the PPE, in which case the employer is not required to pay for its replacement and may require the employee to pay.

The new rule also clarifies issues surrounding the use of employee-owned PPE. The rule acknowledges that employees may wish to use PPE they own, and, if the employer allows them to do so, the employer will not need to reimburse the employees for the PPE. However, the regulatory text also makes clear that employers cannot require employees to provide their own PPE or to pay for their own PPE. The employee’s use of PPE they own must be completely voluntary.

Tomorrow we’ll look at tips for proper foot protection selection and fit, and at a tool that will guide you through all of OSHA’s stringent PPE training requirements.