Eight Years in the Making - Employer Pay for PPE
by Michael Fox
I really haven't digested the details of the new OSHA regulation on personal protective equipment, but here's a link to the final rule: Employer Payment for Personal Protective Equipment; Final Rule.
What I was struck by was the commentary I read elsewhere summarized in this opening paragraph about the history of this regulation (emphasis and bracketed material added by me):
In 1999 [March 31], OSHA issued a proposal to require employers to pay for all protective equipment, including personal protective equipment (PPE), with explicit exceptions for certain safety shoes, prescription safety eyewear, and logging boots (64 FR 15402). The proposal cited two primary reasons for requiring employers to pay for PPE. First, OSHA preliminarily concluded that the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act, or the Act) implicitly requires employers to pay for PPE that is necessary to protect the safety and health of employees. Second, OSHA preliminarily concluded that an across-the-board employer-payment requirement would result in safety benefits by reducing the misuse or non-use of PPE (64 FR 15406-07). Following an initial notice and comment period, an informal rulemaking hearing, a second notice and comment period on specific issues [July 8, 2004], and careful Agency deliberation, OSHA finds that its preliminary conclusions are appropriate and is therefore issuing this final standard requiring employers to pay for PPE, with limited exceptions.
According to an article on the SHRM website, OSHA was managing to make both management and labor unhappy, and finally got a little nudge:
Business-related and organized labor groups have been highly critical of the delay in issuing the final rules. Many employer and work safety groups had complained that OSHA appeared to be dragging its feet and had ignored the pleas of employers to create guidelines that would make it clear who would be responsible for paying for workers’ safety equipment.
Organized labor also criticized the long delay, claiming that the Bush administration was maneuvering to shift costs away from employers and place them on the shoulders of workers. Several proposals to reform federal health and safety laws have faltered in Congress since 1999. Several of the proposed measures included PPE provisions.
In January 2007, the AFL-CIO and United Food and Commercial Workers filed a lawsuit in the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia to force OSHA to issue the final rules. The court has not issued a final ruling on the case. In March, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, introduced legislation to force OSHA to act on the final regulations.
I know regulations are complicated things, and I really have no knowledge about the background on this, and I am assuming that it is a fairly sizeable cost shift from employers to employees and perhaps the looming inevitablity of such a regulation allowed for that to be taken into account in ongoing pay decisions in the interim, but still -- are we now so partisan, or is our government so inefficient, that we need to take eight years to come up with a regulation?
There may well be answers for that question on this particular regulation, and I welcome any commenters who can shed light on it. But even if there are, there is a nagging sense underlying this post that this is not a good sign for how things should work.