November 16, 2007

OSHA ruling requires employers to pay for protective gear

Source: NYSUT News Wire

Workers will be better protected after a November Occupational Safety and Health Agency ruling that requires employers to pay for personal protective equipment.

The Nov. 14 ruling has broad implications for our workers who use gloves, respirators, over-garments and protective suits.

"It’s an inherent obligation of employers to provide employees with the equipment and resources to perform their job in a safe manner," said Kathleen Donahue, vice president of NYSUT. "Thanks to legal action from unions, OSHA came out with this ruling and we must continue to work with our national affiliates to be sure it is enforced."

Many college lab technicians, school nurses and School Related Professionals (such as bus drivers and custodians) pay for their own equipment.

"For years employers interpreted the requirement that employers provide necessary protective equipment as meaning that the employer could make the employee pay for such equipment," said Darryl Alexander, health and safety director for the American Federation of Teachers.

Examples of members affected by the rule:

  • custodians/maintenance personnel required to wear steel-toed shoes;
  • school bus drivers who must wear gloves to pump diesel fuel;
  • school nurses/paraprofessionals who have to have aprons, gloves to avoid exposure to blood-borne pathogens and other body fluid; and who care for children with open wounds infected with Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (a staph infection); and
  • nurses who need N-95 respirators to care for patients with active cases of tuberculosis.

Wendy Hord, NYSUT health and safety specialist, said that she has fielded complaints from members lacking supplies of gloves in their work with physically disabled students requiring toileting, diapering and cleaning up. A local union representing bus drivers filed a complaint with state Public Employees Safety and Health on gloves for diesel fueling by members who did not feel latex was adequate.

It has been nine years since the rule was proposed. "It took a lawsuit by the unions and congressional intervention before the Bush administration would act," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. The AFT and the AFL-CIO will be reviewing the rule to determine if it provides workers with the levels of protection needed and required by law.