23 Oct Who Pays for Work Boots?
More and more, employers have started viewing footwear as an important consideration in their safety programs.
And with good reason: recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that foot and ankle injuries account for 10% of all work-related incidents. By comparison, hand injuries account for 13% of all work-related injuries in the same study.
Feet can be crushed when objects are dropped on them or when they are run over by a vehicle. Puncture injuries as a result of stepping on a nail or broken glass are also a concern for haulers. Outdoor workers face additional weather-related hazards such as frostbite. Poor traction leads to slips and falls, causing a wide variety of fractures, sprains, pulled muscles, hernias and concussions, most of which would not be included in the 10% figure cited above because the resulting injuries would be chalked up to some other part of the body.
Proper foot protection is considered mandatory PPE in environments where safety issues exist. Your written risk assessment should catalog these issues for each category of worker, and you must prescribe the necessary equipment needed to reasonably protect against these risks. If your risk assessment determines special equipment should be worn–steel toes or puncture proof insoles, for example—you may be required to furnish these things to your employees.
An employer’s legal obligation to pay for footwear is full of nuances. 29 CFR 1910.132 (h)(2) says
“The employer is not required to pay for non-specialty safety-toe protective footwear (including steel-toe shoes or steel-toe boots) and non-specialty prescription safety eyewear, provided that the employer permits such items to be worn off the job-site.”
While the above sentence seems to permit employers to require employees to pay for their own footwear as long as they are allowed to wear it for personal use, subsequent clarifications issued by OSHA indicate that is not what the sentence means to say. The operative term in the sentence is “non-specialty safety-toe protective footwear.”
If you were to require “specialty” footwear, you would need to provide it regardless of whether it stayed in a locker after the employee clocks out or not. The regulation seems to say that safety toes alone do not make footwear “specialty.” But subsequent clarifications issued by OSHA do more to add mystery to this designation than clearing anything up.
So, who’s up for an arm-wrestling match with OSHA over what constitutes “specialty” footwear? Nobody?
The issue at the heart of this dilemma is the case of workers wanting to use their safety footwear for non-work-related activities. If work boots wear out faster because they’ve been used for hunting on the weekends, is it reasonable to ask the employer to foot the bill for the next pair? What OSHA has tried unsuccessfully to sort out, the free market has come up with a way to solve:
Many employers find the best way to make everyone happy is to provide an allowance equivalent to the cost of a basic work boot and grant the employee the freedom to select suitable footwear of their own choosing. For employees who don’t wear their work shoes for anything but work, this meets the compulsory requirements of the regulation; for employees who would rather pay more for footwear that suits their preferences and special concerns, they can put this money towards their choice of footwear as long as it conforms to the requirements of the risk assessment.
The allowance renews on an annual basis. If the employee’s boots don’t last the year, it’s likely they are being used for extra-curricular purposes.
You can shop HUB’s safety footwear here.