February 21, 2007
Federal Judge Orders Labor Department to Answer for Eight-Year Delay in Requiring Employers to Pay for Safety Equipment
A United States Court of Appeals ordered the Department of Labor (DOL) to respond in 30 days to a suit requesting the court to order OSHA to implement a long-delayed standard that would require employers to pay the costs of protective clothing, lifelines, face shields, gloves and other equipment used by an estimated 20 million workers to protect them from job hazards.
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and the AFL-CIO sued the DOL January 3 over an eight-year delay in implementing an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule requiring employers to pay for personal protective equipment (PPE).
The lawsuit asserts that the Bush Administration’s failure to act is putting workers in danger. By OSHA’s own estimates, 400,000 workers have been injured and 50 have died due to the absence of this rule. The labor groups noted that workers in some of America’s most dangerous industries, such as meatpacking, poultry and construction, and low-wage and immigrant workers who suffer high injury rates, are vulnerable to being forced by their employers to pay for their own safety gear because of OSHA’s failure to finish the PPE rule.
The rule was first announced in 1997 and proposed in 1999 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) after a ruling by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission that OSHA’s existing PPE standard could not be interpreted to require employers to pay for protective equipment. The new rule would not impose any new obligations on employers to provide safety equipment; it simply codifies OSHA’s longstanding policy that employers, not employees, have the responsibility to pay for it.
In 1999, OSHA promised to issue the final PPE rule in July 2000. But it missed that deadline and has missed every self-imposed deadline since. The agency failed to act in response to a 2003 petition by the AFL-CIO and UFCW and requests by the Hispanic Congressional Caucus. The lawsuit seeking to end this eight-year delay, called it “egregious.”
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, asked the court to issue an order directing the Secretary of Labor to complete the PPE rule within 60 days of the court’s order.