Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) regulations require employers to evaluate workplace hazards and ensure that workers have appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Usually, the employer is required to pay for protective gear such as safety glasses, but there are exceptions.
OSHA's rules requiring worker eye protection have been in place for many years. However, different industries have varying PPE requirements, and the guidance on who was responsible for providing necessary PPE (employer or employee) was inconsistent. In November 2008, the Federal Register published a final rule titled "Employer Payment for Personal Protective Equipment" which was intended to standardise this requirement and improve compliance with safety glasses requirements. The rule's effective date was February 13. 2008.
In general, employers are required to provide, and pay for, the personal protective equipment needed for employees to safely carry out their job tasks. Employers must provide PPE for all types of employees including temporary, part-time and seasonal workers. Employers must pay for speciality forms of eye protection, such as chemical goggles, face shields and laser safety goggles. Employers are required to provide replacement PPE unless it is lost or intentionally damaged by employees.
Employees are not required to pay for "non-speciality prescription eyewear" if the employees are allowed to wear the glasses off the job site. "Non-specialty" means ordinary safety glasses, designed to protect employees from general impact hazards and not from some special hazard such as a chemical splash or laser beam. The rationale is that these glasses are individually fitted and commonly worn outside of the workplace.
Employers can require workers to purchase their own prescription safety glasses, however, this may place an undue cost burden upon some employees. A low cost option for employers is to provide inexpensive non-prescription safety glasses that fit over regular prescription glasses. This provides an acceptable level of protection, although it is less comfortable for employees because of the additional weight and distortion of the added lenses. Or, employers may simply opt to provide prescription safety glasses to improve employee comfort and program compliance. Employers may also consider integrating prescription safety glasses into the company's vision care insurance benefit program.
Although employers are not required to pay for prescription safety glasses, they are still held accountable for PPE compliance. One serious eye injury can be extremely costly in terms of medical claims and lost productivity. Employers must weigh any cost of a prescription safety glasses program against the potential cost of injuries and workers' compensation claims.
Specifications for eye and face protection are established by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). These specifications include characteristics such as impact resistance, frame strength, and chemical resistance. Protective eyewear which conform to these standards can be identified by the marking "Z-87" on the frame. OSHA regulations require that safety glasses conform to ANSI standards.