Learn your rights regarding personal protective equipment
A company’s “personal protective equipment” (PPE) policy can make a world of difference in giving workers the safe environment they are entitled to have. PPE includes all equipment that is required to prevent exposure to what could cause illness or injury on the job.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets essential standards for industries where workers are at an increased injury or illness risk, such as healthcare, first responders and construction. Your employer might be required to provide and pay for this equipment under OSHA requirements.
Read on to learn more about your employer’s obligations and what you can do if they fall short of these requirements.
What PPE is your employer required to provide?
Many people are employed in industries with an increased risk of exposure to hazards. Employers might be required to provide the PPE depending on OSHA guidelines for their industry. If so, then the PPE provided in these cases must fit properly, be clean and be well-constructed. All of the workers must have training that covers PPE use.
Examples of personal protective equipment that your employer may be responsible for providing (depending on your industry) include:
- Steel-toed rubber boots
- Eye protection, including goggles
- Face shields or N95 masks
- Hard hats
Employers cannot have a PPE policy that requires employees to provide their own equipment. Even though employers must pay for and provide PPE, they are not required to pay for regular clothing.
Are employers required to provide PPE for COVID-19 protection?
Many Georgia workers’ compensation cases are likely to involve access to PPE in the light of the coronavirus pandemic. Essential workers have a higher risk of infection because of their close work with the general public.
The following professions have a higher infection risk, according to OSHA:
- Funeral home and crematory workers
- Delivery drivers
- Laboratory technicians
- Airline employees
Shortages of personal protective equipment have been making it harder for these employees (as well as employers in other industries) to conform to PPE policy.
For example, gloves, masks and other protective equipment in the healthcare industry have been rationed or subject to shortages in many Georgia hospitals. Grocery delivery and sanitation workers, among others, have had problems with access to this equipment that has made it harder to do their jobs. Employees in these industries understandably have questions about their employer’s obligations.
Even though OSHA has yet to adopt a specific standard for COVID-19, some established standards could apply and include:
- The Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, which applies to blood and possibly other infectious materials
- General Duty Clause, which calls for a workplace free from hazards likely to cause serious injury or death
- The Respiratory Protection Standard for circumstances where respirators are required
- Other personal protective equipment standards that cover the use of respiratory protection, eye and face protection and gloves
What are your options if your employer fails to provide PPE?
If your employer won’t provide you with PPE according to OSHA requirements, what are your options?
Georgia state law provides for minimal compensation options when PPE isn’t adequately provided and a worker is injured as a result. Workers’ compensation is the primary means of recovery in these cases. When your employer has workers’ compensation coverage, this insurance provides benefits that include lost wages, medical care and rehabilitation.
In Georgia, most companies with 3 or more employees are required to provide workers’ compensation.
Suing an employer outside of the workers’ compensation system is difficult and rare in Georgia, even in cases of negligent employers. Ultimately, you’ll have to show that your employer’s behavior was grossly negligent or malicious in order to sue for negligence. Otherwise, your main source of recovery is through the workers’ compensation system.
Before taking action, document everything that has occurred regarding your employer and your access to PPE, as well as the illness or injury that has happened. Your medical records, as well as documentation of when you have attempted to obtain PPE, are potentially significant evidence. Any refusals that you receive also require careful consideration.
Contact an experienced Georgia attorney to get the help
Our Georgia workers’ compensation attorneys have the experience you need in your case. If you or a loved one became ill or were injured on the job, and believe your employer’s nonconformity to PPE policy is to blame, you may have a case that is worth pursuing.
Contact Gerber & Holder Law today for your free consultation. Let us fight for your rights.