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OSHA rule proposal would require construction PPE to fit properly

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Dive Brief:

  • OSHA is proposing a new rule in order to clarify its personal protective equipment requirements for construction. The revision, published Thursday, explicitly requires that PPE fit workers properly.
  • The agency said it proposed the rule to increase clarity. Currently, it requires construction employers to provide and maintain PPE and ensure employee-owned equipment is adequate, but does not explicitly state that safety gear must properly fit each employee. This rule proposal would add that to the existing rule, which is more in line with general industry and maritime standards.
  • OSHA said that the rule could better protect women, who are often frustrated with and ill protected by oversized gear. Even something as ubiquitous as a safety vest can become an irritant in a low-hazard environment like the office by snagging on door handles.

Dive Insight:

OSHA said the rule clarification will fortify the existing rule to make it more understandable and to ensure that workers of all sizes have the right fit.

Amy Roosa, founder of The Safety Rack, a media network that reviews PPE for women in the trades, praised the rule change.

“My initial reaction is that this is very positive,” Roosa said of the rule proposal. “That’s the biggest struggle we’re seeing is [PPE] properly fitting women in the construction industry, and this rule proposal has the potential to change that for us.” 

But the rule will also benefit men who don’t fall into typical height and weight parameters, said Michelle Gray, national environmental health and safety leader at Redwood City, California-based DPR Construction

“I hope that the construction industry doesn’t focus on this being something just for the women in the industry,” Gray said. “This update will help improve the safety and effectiveness of PPE for everyone-short/tall, large/small.”

She also noted manufacturers and leading contractors are ahead of the regulations, shirking the one-size-fits-all method.

“They are doing a better job of recognizing that PPE works better when it fits right. We are more likely to get people to use it and wear it when it’s made for their size,” Gray said.

North America’s Building Trades Union president Sean McGarvey also praised the rule proposal.

“This minor regulation clarification means that construction workers will be afforded PPE that fits their various sizes and will improve safety for all workers in our industry,” McGarvey said in an email. “This is a huge positive change for tradeswomen and other trade professionals workers who wear different sizes.”

Rulemaking process

The idea of updating this rule is nothing new.

The agency’s Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health recommended OSHA propose the new PPE rule as part of its Standards Improvement Project IV, the agency said. When the agency proposed SIP-IV in 2016, comments the agency received supported the PPE rule proposal, but some associations pushed back, citing costs and enforcement concerns. 

As a result, OSHA tabled the portion of SIP-IV about the PPE rule change.

Because the rule would clarify existing language, the agency says it believes there are no real costs associated with the proposal. However, because OSHA estimates about 10% of workers currently wear ill-fitting PPE, a one-time, transitional expense for the entire industry could cost as much as $545,000, the proposal said.

For most equipment, the cost difference in PPE of varying sizes is minimal, Roosa said.

“The variation in price is not that great anymore,” she said. “It’s not that much more or less to fit a woman in properly-fitted PPE.”

Once published, OSHA will accept public comments on the rule until Sept. 18.

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