Whose responsibility is it to select the appropriate chemical protective clothing?
When working with hazardous chemicals, proper controls should be put in place to minimize employee exposure to these substances. While it is always desirable to implement engineering controls, more often than not PPE is used alone or in combination with engineering and administrative controls because it is easy to implement, quick, inexpensive, and fairly effective.
(Learn more in A Guide to Selecting Chemical Protective Clothing.)
The 1994 OSHA standards 29 CFR 1910.132-138, Personal Protective Equipment state that employers are responsible for establishing and administering the personal protective equipment program for their employees. The employer’s responsibilities, as outlined by the standard, include selecting equipment, training workers on its proper use, enforcing its use, and periodically reviewing the program.
As with other pieces of PPE, the selection is based on the hazards assessment. This ensures that the chemical protective clothing protects our employees from the hazards presented by the chemicals they manipulate, as well as from the hazards created by the combination of these substances. The hazard assessment should establish if the end user (the employee) needs vapor, liquid splash, or particulate protection
(Learn more in 7 Key Chemical Protective Clothing Options to Consider.)
29 CFR 1910.132 (d)(1)(i) stipulates that the employer has to “Select, and have each affected employee use, the types of PPE that will protect the affected employee from the hazards identified in the hazard assessment“.
Some of the OSHA requirements are more general, but in our context can be interpreted as delegating the responsibility for selecting appropriate PPE to the employer. The following two OSHA general employer responsibilities can be see as such:
- “Provide a workplace free from serious recognized hazards and comply with standards, rules and regulations issued under the OSH Act. “
- When working with chemicals and the control is chemical protective equipment, the way the employer provides a workplace free from serious recognized hazards is by selecting appropriate chemically protective equipment. Not selecting the appropriate chemically protective equipment means that the work environment is not free of recognized hazards.
- “Employers with hazardous chemicals in the workplace must develop and implement a written hazard communication program and train employees on the hazards they are exposed to and proper precautions“
- Where proper precautions can be seen as adequate controls for the chemicals being handled, and the control involves selecting PPE that will protect the employee.
Flanagan Consulting’s “OSHA Definition and Terms” defines the employer as the person or entity with control over your work. This statement is too general and leaves too much to interpretation in determining who exactly is responsible for selecting the chemical protective clothing. Luckily, section VIII of OSHA’s Technical Manual clarifies this aspect. It states that the responsibility for selecting appropriate chemical protective clothing should be delegated to an employee who is trained in both chemical hazards and protective clothing, such as a safety officer or hygienist. It follows that employers who require their employees to handle chemicals as part of their job should have in their staff at least one such trained employee (or delegate this to a consultant).
The same section of the manual stipulates that when these chemical hazards are known in advance or encountered routinely the clothing selection should be predetermined (by the safety office or hygienist), eliminating the possibility that the employees will use other clothing items inappropriate for the task at hand.
However, 29 CFR 1910.132 (b) allows the employees to provide their own PPE, but says that the employer has to ensure it is adequate. Even when the employee supplies the chemically protective equipment, the employer is still responsible to ensure the employee has selected PPE that is appropriate for the hazard and provides adequate protection. Therefore, the responsibility (and accountability that comes with it) for PPE selection cannot be delegated to the employee.
Written by Karoly Ban Matei | HR and Safety Manager
Karoly has worked at a senior level (both as an employee and a contractor) for organizations in the construction and manufacturing industries. He has a passion for developing and improving health and safety programs.
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