EMPLOYMENT LAW: OSHA Proposes New Regs for Safety Gear in Construction Industry

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently released a proposal to clarify that personal protective equipment (PPE) must fit construction workers properly.

OSHA announced the notice of proposed rulemaking for the construction industry on July 20, emphasizing that the same is already required in its general industry and maritime industry standards. A perfect fit isn’t required, but the gear needs to fit well enough to provide the necessary protection to the worker.

“Improperly fitting PPE may fail to provide any protection to an employee, may present additional hazards, or may discourage employees from using such equipment in the workplace,” the proposed rule states.

Historically, manufacturers and suppliers have produced and sold equipment designed to fit average-size men; however, U.S. construction workers possess a wide variety of body sizes and shapes, OSHA noted.

“The failure of standard-sized PPE to protect physically smaller construction workers properly, as well as problems with access to properly fitting PPE, have long been safety and health concerns in the construction industry, especially for some women,” OSHA stated in a press release.

For example, sleeves that are too long or safety gloves that don’t fit can make it difficult to use tools or control equipment, and pant legs that are too long can cause tripping hazards, OSHA noted in the proposed rule.

Having gloves that are too big is a common problem, and too-large gloves can get caught in machinery, said Heather MacDougall, an attorney with Morgan Lewis in Miami.

“The rule will require employers to pay more attention to the needs of employees who may be too large or too small to properly wear certain types of PPE. This is likely to have a significant impact, as more women and other employees who typically have smaller features begin to work in construction jobs,” said Pat Tyson, an attorney with Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete in Atlanta.

OSHA said it does not expect the new standard to increase costs or compliance burdens for employers in the construction industry. However, MacDougall said, “It’s reasonable to assume that employers will assume some costs to put in place new protocols, to acquire new PPE and confirm compliance.”

Employers and others may submit comments using the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal until Sept. 18. MacDougall said the proposal is likely to become a final rule.

Types of Equipment

OSHA regulations state that PPE includes hard hats, gloves, goggles, safety shoes, safety glasses, welding helmets and goggles, hearing protection devices, respirators, coveralls, vests, full bodysuits, and harnesses. These items are designed to prevent job-related injuries, illnesses and deaths. PPE does not include everyday clothing, street shoes, normal work boots, sunscreen, sunglasses, raincoats and winter coats.

Even when employees provide their own PPE, OSHA requires the employer to ensure the gear’s adequacy through proper maintenance and sanitation.

In light of the proposed rule, employers should keep a variety of sizes of PPE and remind employees about how to raise concerns when their PPE doesn’t fit or is worn out and needs to be replaced, MacDougall said.

As part of their regular safety protocols, employers should make sure the equipment does not fall off, slip down or feel so tight that it restricts a person’s movements, she said, adding, “It’s another part of the checklist as employers engage in inspections.”

Source: SHRM