The National Roofing Contractors Association is joining other construction associations in critiquing proposed changes to federal regulations regarding the use of personal protective equipment, or PPE, in the construction industry.

Last month, the NRCA joined the Construction Industry Safety Coalition [CISC], a group of 30 trade associations from nearly every aspect of construction, in submitting comments on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s [OSHA] proposed rulemaking on the use of PPE. OSHA is looking to amend 29 CFR 1926.95(c) to explicitly require employers to ensure that all PPE “properly fits” each affected employee.

OSHA defines “properly fits” as:

PPE is the appropriate size to provide an employee with the necessary protection from hazards, and does not create additional safety and health hazards arising from being either too small or too large. When PPE fits properly, employees are unlikely to discard or modify it because of discomfort or interference with their work activities.”

The agency pointed to numerous instances related to ill-fitting PPE as supporting evidence for its proposed changes. In construction, from April 6, 1994, to July 30, 2021, OSHA issued 1,722 citations for violations of 29 CFR 1926.95(a)–(c).

“OSHA cited the inappropriate fit of PPE nine times, all under 29 CFR 1926.95(a). The majority of these instances were for improperly fitting gloves that exposed employees to hazards,” OSHA states in its proposed rulemaking.

OSHA notes that poor-fitting PPE will not afford the necessary protection and that “care should be taken to ensure that the right size is selected.” Regarding enforcement of this guideline, OSHA has stated its approach would be the same as how it enforces PPE use in general industry and maritime.

Raising Objections

The CISC agrees with OSHA that PPE is essential in creating effective health and safety programs but is concerned the revisions to the PPE standard are “wholly vague” in both definitions and how it will be enforced.

“For example, whether something is of an ‘appropriate size,’ provides ‘necessary protection’ and does not create ‘additional safety and health hazards’ is vague and open to multiple interpretations,” the CISC letter states.

Regarding OSHA’s evidence for the change, the CISC contends most of the examples don’t clarify how improper fit was determined.

“The examples involve very limited types of PPE, and fail to provide context as to how the new rule will be enforced going forward,” the CISC letter said.

Ambiguous Enforcement

The CISC contends the proposed changes don’t address how investigators will be evaluating PPE for “proper fit” compliance, whether it’s if the fit is checked during inspections or site visits, or what factors – subjective or objective – will be used to determine compliance.

The NRCA, with the CISC, argues OSHA isn’t taking into consideration the unique characteristics of the construction industry by applying enforcement parameters used in general and maritime industries.

“Every worksite is different and poses an array of potential hazards, which change daily. What PPE is needed and when, can vary from day to day depending on the activities performed on a jobsite,” the letter states. “Unlike a static work environment where a worker does the same activity in the same conditions every day, a construction site is dynamic by nature.”

The associations are seeking clarification on enforcement policies, such as whether an employer will be cited for failing to identify ill-fitting PPE or if accident investigations will now require “a casual determination to determine if improper fit was the citable offense.”

“[C]onstruction sites have multiple employers onsite, and are uniquely subject to multiemployer enforcement. The CISC is concerned that OSHA has not considered how this rule will be enforced in that context,” the letter says.

Increased Burdens

The CISC foresees the proposed changes, increasing the burdens placed on employers. It believes that having all PPE properly fitting employees places new responsibilities on construction employers.

By following the changes to their conclusion, the associations say it will require employers to have generic construction PPE available in all types of sizes as well as constantly maintain this increased PPE inventory. It also may leave employers open to enforcement actions without “giving fair notice of what is required.”

“The CISC urges OSHA to consider the unique challenges faced by the construction industry before summarily assuming that enforcement and compliance issues will be identical,” the associations said.