The first lines of defense in preventing workplace injuries are equipment guards and training. If those measures are inadequate or impractical, OSHA rules require employers to provide all affected employees with personal protective equipment, or PPE.
Businesses must conduct hazard assessments of their facilities to determine precisely what, if any, PPE their employees might need. This assessment not only identifies unsafe conditions where workplace accidents are likely to occur, but it also pushes the employer to think carefully about what personal safety equipment its employees will need.
Since a 2008 OSHA rule went into effect, employers have been required to pay for most PPE costs, such as for helmets, goggles, face shields, earplugs or muffs, respirators and similar gear. They are not, however, required to pay for safety footwear, everyday work clothes, hairnets and gloves used by food workers, or creams and gear to protect against exposure to the elements. Likewise, they are not required to pay to replace PPE that an employee intentionally breaks.
An employee may use his or her own PPE on the job. However, the employer must ensure that he or she is doing so voluntarily and that the employee's equipment is sound and appropriate for the hazards present. The employer is also responsible for training employees in the proper care and use of PPE, maintaining the equipment, and periodically evaluating how it is functioning.
Failing to live up to these important OSHA requirements puts companies at great financial and legal risk and threatens the lives and wellbeing of the workers who keep company doors open. PPE is therefore the lynchpin of any effective safety plan.
Source: OSHA, "HANDOUT#7, Employers Must Provide and Pay for PPE," accessed on April 20, 2015