Personal Protective Equipment

Who Pays for Which PPE? Getting a Grip on the "Employer Pays" Rule

Confused about exactly which items of PPE you have to pay for and which you don’t? Here’s quick review of the “employer pays” rule.

OSHA’s PPE standard (29 CFR 1910.132[h]) says that employers must pay for most types of PPE when used by employees exclusively in the workplace (that is, not for personal use at home or other nonworkplace activities).

The general rule of thumb is that you must pay for PPE whenever an OSHA rule explicitly requires it, such as for respiratory protection when air contaminant levels are above the PEL or hearing protection when noise exceeds established decibel levels. 

OSHA’s “employer pays rule” also mandates that you pay to replace required PPE on a regular basis. But you don’t have to pay for replacements whenever employees request it as long as the PPE is still in safe condition.

If an employee purchases his or her own PPE and is allowed to use it a work, you are not required to reimburse the employee for that purchase.

You also don’t have to pay for replacement PPE if the employee has lost the item due to negligence or has intentionally damaged the PPE (1910.132[h][5]).

OSHA recommends that you establish a policy to clarify PPE payment and replacement rules so that both employees and supervisors understand requirements concerning matters such as:

  • What constitutes normal wear and tear (expected service life)
  • Lost or damaged PPE (negligence vs. uncontrollable circumstances)
  • How to safeguard against PPE abuse and negligence
  • Allowing (or disallowing) employees to use PPE for personal activities that are not work related

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What You Have to Pay For

The following is a nonexhaustive list of PPE you must provide at no cost to employees, courtesy of Safety.BLR.com:

  • Electrical protection (electrically insulated tools, rubber insulating gloves)
  • Chemical protection (chemical-resistant gloves/aprons/clothing, encapsulating chemical-protective suits)
  • Foot protection (metatarsal foot protection, special boots for longshoremen working logs on log ships, rubber boots with steel toes, shoe covers–toe caps and metatarsal guards)
  • Eye and face protection (nonprescription eye protection, prescription eyewear inserts/lenses for full-face respirators, prescription eyewear inserts/lenses for welding and diving helmets, goggles, face shields, laser safety goggles)
  • Head protection (bump caps, hard hats)
  • Hearing protection
  • Hand/arm/body protection (rubber sleeves, aluminized gloves, mesh cutproof gloves, mesh or leather aprons, leather gloves)
  • Nonspecialty gloves (payment is required for PPE to protect from dermatitis, severe cuts/abrasions; payment is not required if they are only for keeping clean or for cold weather with no site-specific hazard consideration)
  • Reflective work vests
  • Respiratory protection
  • Skin protection (barrier creams, unless used solely for weather-related protection)
  • Fall protection (ladder safety device belts, climbing ensembles used by linemen such as belts and climbing hooks, window cleaner’s safety straps)
  • Fire-fighting PPE (helmets, gloves, boots, proximity suits, full gear)
  • Welding PPE (including fire-resistant shirts, jackets, and sleeves)
  • Items used in medical/laboratory settings (aprons, lab coats, goggles, disposable gloves, shoe covers, etc.) to protect from exposure to infectious agents
  • Personal flotation devices (life jackets)

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What You Don’t Have to Pay For

Items exempt from the “employer pays” rule include clothes or items that are not worn by employees exclusively for protection from hazards, such as the following:

  • Certain foot protection (e.g., nonspecialty safety-toe protective footwear, provided that the employer permits such items to be worn off the jobsite, steel-toe shoes, steel-toe boots, shoes or boots with built-in metatarsal protection that the employee chooses instead of metatarsal guards provided by the employer, and logging boots under the logging standard (29 CFR 1910.266[d])
  • Nonspecialty prescription safety eyewear, provided that the employer permits such items to be worn off the jobsite
  • Everyday clothing (long-sleeved shirts, long pants, street shoes, and normal work boots)
  • Ordinary clothing and skin creams used solely for protection from the weather (e.g., winter coats, gloves, rubber boots, hats, raincoats, ordinary sunglasses, and sunscreen)
  • Back belts
  • Dust masks and respirators worn under the voluntary-use provisions of the PPE standard
  • Items worn for product or consumer safety or patient safety and health rather than employee safety and health (for example, hair nets to prevent food contamination during preparation)
  • Uniforms that are not PPE
  • Items worn to keep clean for purposes not related to safety and health
  • PPE already owned and used voluntarily by the employee
  • Flame-resistant clothing for electrical work

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