The question of who foots the bill for your safety equipment does not pose an argument for the federal government. It treats workplace safety as a serious issue. Even so, it's in your best interest to understand not only your employer's responsibilities, but also your own when it comes to safety equipment on the job. Because as most everyone knows – it's much better to be safe than sorry.
With the enactment of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration – the agency empowered by the Act – became the watchdog for workers' safety. Besides administering health and safety regulations and guidelines for the workplace, OSHA also lists the jobs that require safety and personal protection equipment for workers. It wasn't until 2008 that OSHA enforced a new regulation about who must pay for this safety equipment.
Under the 2008 regulation, employers must pay for an employee's personal protection equipment if the job demands it, except when you use the gear outside of work. OSHA says, for example, that your employer doesn't have to pay for your nonspecialty steel-toe shoes or prescription safety eyewear unless you are not allowed to take them from the work premises. OSHA's reasoning is that these items are personal to you and can be used anywhere.
Personal Protection Equipment
Personal protection equipment must be used when safety controls do not protect an employee from a hazard at work. Safety equipment includes head, eye and ear protection. It also includes hand and foot protection and respirators, if needed. Specific items covered under personal protection equipment your employer pays for includes nonprescription eye protection such as goggles and face shields as well as prescription eyewear, lenses or inserts for full face respirators. When you have to weld or fight fires, your employer must also supply you with earmuffs or ear plugs, gloves, hard hats and rubber boots with steel toes.
The thrust behind OSHA and the spirit of its regulations begins with employers protecting you from hazards that can cause illness or injury at work. Besides providing you with protection and machinery with safety features such as hand guards for saw blades, your employer has other safety obligations. Employers have to complete hazard assessments to identify any potential safety issues. After identification, the employer must take measures to control any physical or health issues presented by your workplace by teaching safety practices or equipment handling rules. Some employers manage this by having employee teams periodically conduct safety audits of employee work habits and machinery.
Employers and employees both have responsibilities for safety. For example, while an employer must train employees how to use safety equipment on the job, employees have to attend the training. Your employer needs to maintain or replace damaged or worn equipment, but you have the responsibility to care for and clean your personal equipment. An employer needs to periodically review and evaluate the effectiveness of your protection equipment, but you have to let him know if it becomes damaged or worn. If you intentionally damage or lose your safety equipment, your employer can require you to replace or pay for it on your dime.
- Ryan McVay/Lifesize/Getty Images