Personal Protective Equipment Enforcement Guidance

Personal Protective Equipment Enforcement Guidance

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for their employees when employees are exposed to certain workplace hazards. Over the years, OSHA and employers have grappled with what equipment employers are required to provide for their employees, at the employers’ expense. On Feb. 10, 2011, OSHA issued a directive to clarify what type of PPE employers must supply for their employees, at the employers’ expense. The directive also updates standards for enforcement of PPE policies. In summary, the 2011 direct established guidelines to assist OSHA Compliance Safety and health Officers to enforce PPE standards and it clarifies when employers are required to pay for Personal Protective Equipment.


As a general matter, OSHA maintains that employers are responsible for identifying potential and actual hazards, as well as establishing requirements for PPE. Management must also establish and review related training and programs at least annually and when equipment or facility additions or modifications cause changes in PPE requirements. Both upper management and supervisors are responsible for enforcing these programs. In addition to the initial and yearly assessments, employers also have a duty to train their employees in the proper use of the PPE. This training is to include:

  • When and what PPE is necessary
  • How to don, doff, adjust and wear the PPE
  • PPE limitations
  • The proper care, maintenance, useful life and disposal of PPE
  • Employers are required to obtain written certification (signed paperwork) that employees attended and understood the training. OSHA can issue citations to employers that fail to comply with these requirements.


Unless an exception applies, employers must provide any Personal Protective Equipment their employees are required to use under OSHA standards. The 2011 guidance supplies employers with a list of items that employers must supply and whether employers are expected to cover the cost. This list is not exhaustive and may not contain the specific PPE an employer may determine is necessary after conducting a hazard assessment.

Employers should consult their hazard assessment when deciding whether they must provide an item at no cost to their employees. While employers may require an employee to pay for Personal Protective Equipment that was lost or intentionally destroyed, employees are not responsible for damage caused to their PPE by normal wear and tear. Furthermore, employers are under no obligation to provide their employees with PPE that exceeds the standards and requirements set by OSHA, as long as adequate PPE is available for employee use.

Employer Expected to Cover Expense:

Employer Expected to Cover Expense Employer Not Expected to Cover Expense

  • Metatarsal foot protection
  • Special boots for longshoremen working logs
  • Rubber boots with steel toes
  • Shoe covers, toe caps and metatarsal guards
  • Non-prescription eye protection
  • Prescription eye-wear inserts or lenses for full-face piece respirator
  • Prescription eye-wear inserts or lenses for welding and diving helmets
  • Goggles
  • Face shields
  • Laser safety goggles
  • Firefighting PPE (helmet, gloves, boots, proximity suits, full gear)
  • Hard hats or Bump Caps
  • Hearing protection
  • Welding PPE
  • Items used in medical or laboratory settings to protect from exposure to infectious agents
    (aprons, lab coats, goggles, disposable gloves, shoe covers, etc.)
  • Non-specialty gloves (example: protection from dermatitis, severe cuts and abrasions)
  • Rubber sleeves
  • Aluminized gloves
  • Chemical-resistant gloves, aprons and clothing
  • Barrier creams (unless used solely for weather-related protection)
  • Rubber insulating gloves
  • Mesh cut-proof gloves, mesh or leather aprons
  • Self-contained breathing apparatus and atmosphere supplying respirators (escape only)
  • Respirators
  • Personal fall protection
  • Ladder safety device belts
  • Climbing ensembles used by linemen (for example, belts and climbing hooks)
  • Window cleaners’ safety straps
  • Personal flotation devices (life jackets)
  • Encapsulating chemical protective suits and
  • Reflective work vests

Employer Not Expected to Cover Expense:

  • Non-specialty safety-toe protective footwear if the employer allows employees to wear it off the job site such as safety, toe-protective footwear (leather/steel toe shoes/boots) and rubber boots with steel toes
  • Sunglasses or sunscreen
  • Non-specialty prescription safety eyewear if employees are allowed to wear them outside of the job site
  • Sunglasses or sunscreen
  • Non-specialty gloves (they must not be required) they are only for keeping clean or for cold weather, with no safety or health considerations
  • Sturdy work shoes
  • Lineman’s boots
  • Ordinary cold weather gear (coats, parkas, cold weather gloves and winter boots)
  • Logging boots required under 29 CFR1910.266(d)(1)(v)
  • Ordinary rain gear
  • Back belts
  • Long-sleeve shirts
  • Long pants
  • Dust masks and respirators used under the voluntary use provisions in 29 CFR 1910.134.
  • Items worn to keep employees clean for purposes unrelated to safety or health (denim coveralls, aprons)
  • Items worn for product or consumer safety (not employee safety and health), such as hairnets worn
  • solely to protect food products from contamination that are not used to comply with machine guarding
  • requirements and plastic or rubber gloves worn solely to prevent food contamination during meal preparation (not including cut-proof gloves worn to prevent lacerations)
  • Items worn for patient safety and health, not employee safety and health
  • Travel time and related expenses for employees to shop for PPE
  • Uniforms, caps or other clothing worn solely to identify a person as an employee

The following are examples of potential workplace conditions that will likely lead an employer to receive an OSHA citation:

  • Providing the PPE required by an OSHA standard, but charging employees for the equipment by deducting its cost from the employees’ pay;
  • Providing and paying for initial employee PPE in accordance with an OSHA standard, but later charging employees for replacing it. OSHA allows for an exception to this violation for any employee who intentionally loses or damages his or her PPE;
  • Allowing employees to purchase their initial, required PPE and reimbursing them more than one billing cycle or pay period after the purchase takes place. Though OSHA allows for PPE reimbursement systems, the delay payment of PPE reimbursement should not exceed one billing cycle or one pay period.
  • Permitting employees to voluntarily use their own required PPE and then charging them for employer-provided PPE when employees decide to discontinue the use of their own PPE. An employee may voluntarily use his or her own equipment without employer reimbursement, provided that the PPE is adequate, meets OSHA standards and the employer allows its use.

It is also important to note that OSHA issues citations on a “per-employee basis”, meaning an employer could receive a separate citation and fine for each employee not in compliance. This can result in severe penalties. The exact amount of these penalties is difficult to assess because they can vary, depending on the employer’s industry and the type of violation.


Q1: Are employers required to pay for lineman belts and hooks when used to comply with an OSHA standard?

 Yes. Lineman belts and hooks provide protection to employees from falls while climbing or performing work. This equipment is considered Personal Protective Equipment and employers must pay for it when their employees use to comply with an OSHA standard. 

Q2: Electrical employees may use fiberglass poles known as “hot sticks” to push over power lines when they are working on the lines. Are these poles regarded as Personal Protective Equipment?

 No. While some specific and specialized tools have protective characteristics, such as electrically insulated “hot sticks” this equipment is more properly viewed as an engineering control that isolates the employee from the hazard.

Therefore, they are not covered by the Personal Protective Equipment payment standard. However, because they are an engineering control method, employers must pay for this equipment.

 Q3: As it pertains to prescription eyewear, would non-specialty safety eyewear furnished with permanent side shields be paid for by the employer?

 The PPE payment rule specifically exempts non-specialty prescription safety eyewear. Non-specialty safety eyewear worn to protect an employee from impact hazards typically has removable or permanent side shields to provide this protection. Employers are not required to pay for prescription safety eyewear with removable or permanent side shields as long as the employer provides safety eyewear that fits over the employee’s prescription lenses.

Q4: In some situations, employees are required to wear shoes with a slip-resistant sole that are uniform in color. The employees wear the shoes to and from work and in other places outside of the work environment. These shoes are indistinguishable from ordinary “street” shoes and many different types of shoes with rubber soles. These employees are not exposed to hazards such as crushing or penetrating injuries or falling or rolling objects, requiring safety shoes with steel toes or metatarsal protection. In such cases, would the slip-resistant shoes required here rise to the level of safety footwear with additional protection or more specialized protection, and, therefore, must be provided at no cost?

 No. Employers are not required to pay for non-specialty shoes that offer some slip-resistant characteristics but are otherwise ordinary clothing in nature.

Q5: What are some examples of equipment that the standard does not require employers to pay for?

Employers are not required to pay for items worn to keep an employee clean for purposes unrelated to safety or health such as denim coveralls and aprons worn solely to prevent soiling clothing or skin. In addition, employers do not have to pay for uniforms, caps or other clothing worn solely to identify a person as an employee.

 If you have any questions you can contact me anytime to discuss, or 877-352-2121 X407

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