When an employer provides personal protective equipment (PPE) to all onsite workers (including contractors and subcontractors), does it have any liability or exposure if the PPE fails? Does the fact of whether the PPE was provided for free come into play? This question was recently posed to experts at Safety.BLR.com®—read on to see their response.
Complete Question: We are Emergency Services General Contractors focusing on commercial buildings. We subcontract pretty much all work. What is your opinion on providing hardhats, safety glasses, and Hi-Viz vests (all with our company logo) to all workers on the job site? Do we have extra liability or exposure if the PPE fails because we supplied it for free? If we charged a small amount, does it relieve us of this burden of exposure/liability?
Answer: In most cases, you are required to provide your employees with PPE at no cost. In cases where employees provide their own PPE, you remain responsible for assuring its adequacy.
OSHA requires employers to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for eyes, face, head, and extremities; protective clothing; respiratory devices; and protective shields and barriers whenever necessary to protect employees against workplace hazards capable of causing injury or impairment. PPE must be provided by the employer at no cost to employees unless it is non-specialty safety-toe protective footwear or non-specialty prescription safety eyewear that the employer allows employees to wear off the job site. Additionally, employers are not required to pay for:
- Logging boots;
- Everyday clothing, such as long-sleeve shirts, long pants, street shoes, and normal work boots; or
- Ordinary clothing, skin creams, or other items used solely for protection from weather, such as winter coats, jackets, gloves, parkas, rubber boots, hats, raincoats, ordinary sunglasses, and sunscreen.
In your case, you must provide hardhats and high visibility vests to employees at no cost to them, as well as safety glasses if they are not non-specialty prescription safety eyewear that you allow employees to wear off the job site.
Where an employee provides adequate PPE that he or she owns, an employer may allow the employee to use it and is not required to reimburse the employee for that equipment. However, an employer may not require an employee to provide or pay for his or her own PPE, and the employer is still responsible for assuring its adequacy, including proper cleaning and maintenance.
Note: These requirements apply to any employer with an employee regardless of whether the employee is full-time, part-time, temporary, short-term, or working under any other type of arrangement that results in an employer-employee relationship under the OSH Act. However, as a general matter, OSHA has specified that a host employer/general contractor is not required to pay for the PPE of a subcontractor’s employees at multi-employer. Nevertheless, when a host employer/general contractor establishes an employment relationship with an employee, the host employer/general contractor must provide the PPE to the employee at no cost. The obligation to pay for PPE is dependent on the employer/employee relationship.
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