OSHA today announced a final rule clarifying employer-paid personal protective equipment (PPE). Under the rule, all PPE, with a few exceptions, will be provided at no cost to the employee.

The agency anticipates that this rule will have substantial safety benefits that will result in more than 21,000 fewer occupational injuries per year.

The rule will be published in theFederal Registeron November 15, 2007.

“Employees exposed to safety and health hazards may need to wear personal protective equipment to be protected from injury, illness and death caused by exposure to those hazards,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Edwin G. Foulke Jr. “This final rule will clarify who is responsible for paying for PPE, which OSHA anticipates will lead to greater compliance and potential avoidance of thousands of workplace injuries each year.”

The final rule contains a few exceptions for ordinary safety-toed footwear, ordinary prescription safety eyewear, logging boots, and ordinary clothing and weather-related gear.

The final rule also clarifies OSHA’s requirements regarding payment for employee-owned PPE and replacement PPE:

• It provides that, if employees choose to use PPE they own, employers will not need to reimburse the employees for the PPE. The standard also makes clear that employers cannot require employees to provide their own PPE and the employee’s use of PPE they already own must be completely voluntary. Even when an employee provides his or her own PPE, the employer must ensure that the equipment is adequate to protect the employee from hazards at the workplace.

• It also requires that the employer pay for replacement PPE used to comply with OSHA standards. However, when an employee has lost or intentionally damaged PPE, the employer is not required to pay for its replacement.

The final rule provides employees no less protection than they would have received under the 1999 proposed standard, according to OSHA.

The rule also provides an enforcement deadline of six months from the date of publication to allow employers time to change their existing PPE payment policies to accommodate the final rule.