In our latest installment of Ask the Expert, brought to you by the team of industry experts at EHS Hero®, we look at a recent question from a subscriber asking about whether employers must pay for specialty safety shoes. See what the experts had to say.
Q: There was a question of whether we (the employer) must pay for safety shoes for our employees. My answer has always been that shoes are for the most part exempt from that standard, but I want to be sure that we shouldn’t be requiring specialty shoes. How do you determine whether you need static dissipative shoes at a worksite? We are a car wash business, and we occasionally handle containers of flammable liquids (wash product and gas cans for lawnmowers, leaf blowers, etc.). But I don’t know the threshold for requiring specialty shoes.
You are correct that employer payment for standard safety shoes is not required as long as employees are allowed to wear the shoes off the jobsite and the shoes are not specialty shoes (29 CFR 1910.132(h)(2)).
As to your question regarding whether you should be providing static dissipative shoes, which would qualify as specialty shoes (and thus would need to be paid for by the employer), it is up to each employer to perform a hazard assessment of the work environment and make a determination as to the personal protective equipment (PPE), including foot protection, that provides the needed level of protection from the hazards employees are exposed to on the job.
At 29 CFR 1910.136(a), OSHA requires the use of protective footwear when it will protect employees from an electrical hazard, such as a static-discharge or electric-shock hazard.
Although we cannot make a definitive determination without knowing more details about your worksite, it seems unlikely that static dissipative shoes would be necessary. Static dissipative shoes are typically worn by workers in electronics assembly and other industries where static electricity can damage sensitive parts. A car wash environment does not seem to be a situation that would necessitate the use of these shoes.
Depending on the nature of the flammable liquids your workers handle and the other hazards present in your workplace, it is possible that electrically conductive shoes would be more appropriate than static-dissipative footwear. Conductive footwear is worn in environments where explosives are handled or where highly flammable atmospheres are common, thus making static electric sparks very dangerous. However, again, this depends on your operations, and it is possible that conductive footwear is not necessary or appropriate for your employees. In addition, employees exposed to electrical hazards must never wear conductive shoes, so that is an additional consideration to take into account in your hazard assessment, as the use of PPE must not create additional hazards.
The ASTM F2412 and F2413 standards set out testing and performance requirements for protective footwear. OSHA references these standards in its foot protection standard at 29 CFR 1910.136(b)(1)(i), and you may wish to review these standards for additional information to help you determine the type of foot protection that is most appropriate for your employees.
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