Unions Sue DoL for Failure to Issue Safety Gear Rule

January 5, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The AFL-CIO and the United Food and Commercial Workers have filed a lawsuit against the Department of Labor (DoL) for failing to finalize a rule that puts responsibility on employers to pay for workers' personal protective equipment.

A joint news release from the unions said the lawsuit asks the court to issue an order directing Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao to complete the regulations within 60 days of the court’s order. The rule was proposed in 1999 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) after a ruling determined the existing standard could not be interpreted to require employers to pay for protective equipment.

According to the unions, OSHA promised to finalize the rule by July 1999, but missed that deadline and every self-imposed deadline since. The news release said OSHA itself estimates 400,000 workers have been injured and 50 have died due to the absence the final rule.

In a report from the New York Times, a DoL spokesperson said issuance of the final rule had been delayed because “a number of public comments we received take issue with the factual assumptions” in the proposed rule.

According to the Times, Peg Seminario, the AFL-CIO’s director of occupational safety and health, said some meat and poultry companies required employees to pay for gloves and some welding companies required workers to pay for visors, but in most cases of the 20 million workers required to use protective equipment employers did pay for it.

The final rule would require employers to pay the costs of protective clothing, lifelines, face shields, gloves and other equipment used by workers to protect against job hazards.