Emphasizing the “Personal” in PPESep 01, 2023
OSHA seeks to ensure the “proper fit” of personal protective equipment in the construction industry
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) recently clarified some language in the construction industry’s current standard governing personal protective equipment (PPE). In late July, OSHA published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that amends the current PPE standard — 29 CFR 1926.95(c) — to incorporate new language about ensuring proper PPE “fit.”
Unlike the maritime and general industry PPE standards, the current PPE standard for the construction industry does not specify that PPE must fit properly. As a result, OSHA believes there is some inconsistency throughout the construction industry in the availability of “properly fitting” PPE for all workers, especially for women and certain small- and large-statured individuals.
In the NPRM, OSHA cited examples of sleeves on protective clothing that are too long and improperly-fitted gloves that may make it difficult to operate machinery or use tools — but the agency does not provide a clear definition of how “properly fitting” PPE is defined. Some employers are concerned that without this explanation, it creates a situation where employees can complain about “improperly fitting” PPE simply because it is uncomfortable.
Interested parties have until September 18 to submit comments or hearing requests about this change through the Federal Rulemaking Portal. Use Docket No. OSHA-2019-0003.
What happens next?
While unlikely, OSHA may make changes before issuing the final rule. Possible changes will depend primarily on the feedback received during the comment period. However OSHA proceeds —given the remaining mandatory steps in the rulemaking process — it will be at least six months before the agency issues a final rule and changes go into effect.
While most construction employers are probably already on board with OSHA’s general understanding of “properly fitting” PPE, the new rule also creates another area of regulatory scrutiny whenever OSHA visits a construction site. As previously reported, the likelihood of OSHA visiting almost any construction site is greater now than in a very long time. Employers must be prepared to show compliance officers that they are being responsive to OSHA’s “proper fit” concerns.
If it goes into effect unchanged, the new rule will require construction employers to make sure that “properly fitting” personal protective equipment (PPE) is available to all their employees. The current standard says that PPE must be “provided, used, and maintained in a sanitary and reliable condition.” The new standard requires employers to pay more attention to the needs of individual employees who may be too large or too small to wear certain types of PPE properly.
What should employers do?
Most construction employers already provide PPE in various sizes and types, and some employers are concerned about whether or not this general approach will comply with a new standard that mandates “proper fit” without defining what that means.
One helpful clue about how OSHA will be approaching this issue can be found in Table 1 of the NPRM, which distinguishes between employer-provided PPE that has a “universal fit” — making it “completely adjustable and capable of fitting any person” — and employer-provided PPE that does not have universal fit. We can assume that non-universal PPE is where the agency’s concerns will be focused in any inspection situation and also where employers should direct their compliance review.
According to OSHA, non-universal PPE includes Chemical Protective Clothing, Chemical Protective Footwear, Chemical Splash Goggles, Earmuffs, Face Shields, Gloves for Abrasion Protection, Gloves for Chemical Protection, Non-Prescription Safety Glasses, Safety Goggles, Safety Vests, and Splash Aprons.
While OSHA does not believe this change will significantly increase employers’ costs or compliance burdens, it’s likely that many construction employers will choose to stock a much broader array of PPE for certain items than they have in the past.
If you have any questions or concerns about your current PPE protocols — or received a citation for any reason — don’t hesitate to contact Orr & Reno for assistance.
If you have any concerns about how this new state and federal legislation will impact your business — or questions about implementing new policies clearly and appropriately — don’t hesitate to contact Orr & Reno for assistance.
About the author: James F. Laboe