OSHA standard 1910.136 for occupational foot protection requires as follows: "General requirements.
The employer shall ensure that each affected employee uses protective footwear when working in areas where there is a danger of foot injuries due to falling or rolling objects, piercing the sole and where such employee's feet are exposed to electrical hazards."
Employers frequently have questions over this standard as to when safety shoes are required and who has to pay for them. Regarding when safety shoes are required, the employer's experience on foot injuries needs to be analyzed to determine whether there has been a history of foot injuries due to falling or rolling objects or objects piercing the sole.
Clearly, where workers are exposed to electrical hazards, safety shoes are required. Even if the employer does not have a history of foot injuries, but has overhead hazards or potential hazards of heavy objects falling or rolling in work areas or walkways, then employees could be viewed as exposed and safety shoes would be required.
Who pays for such safety shoes has been a bone of contention throughout the years, leading OSHA to issue an official interpretation as follows: "OSHA does not require employers to pay for ordinary safety shoes if they may be worn away from the worksite. The question of payment for such safety shoes may be left to labor-management negotiations."
This OSHA interpretation leaves a number of open issues and questions unanswered. When I recently called an OSHA regional administrator and area director, they indicated that there had not been any update, but OSHA is "working on the standard to tighten it up." The existing interpretation memo still could be utilized, they said, but added "the door is open in the current standard."
Under this interpretation, the options for payment for employers or reimbursement to employees varies from partial to full reimbursement in most workplaces where safety shoes are required. In a 1995 letter interpretation to a union international chairperson for the machinists and aerospace workers, OSHA indicated: "The employer is obligated to provide and pay for personal protective equipment required by the company for the worker to do his or her job safely and in compliance with OSHA standards. Where equipment is very personal in nature, such as safety shoes, and is usable by employees off the job, the matter of payment may be left to labor-management negotiations. However, items such as safety shoes, which are subject to contamination by carcinogens or other toxic or hazardous substances, and which cannot be safely worn off-site, must be paid for by the employer."
For now, OSHA still allows employers to negotiate or handle this matter on a partial- or full-reimbursement basis where safety shoes can be worn off the job and are required by the employer to be used in view of falling or rolling or electrical safety hazards. If you would like a copy of the existing interpretations, contact Ehlke Law offices.