On June 1, 2015, OSHA released an Interpretation Letter1 in response to the following question: “who is responsible for the laundering of fire retarding clothing that is provided to employees?”
According to the agency, OSHA regulations do not prohibit employers from allowing employees to launder their fire retarding clothing at home. However, employers must do more than “simply instruct employees to follow manufacturers’ instructions.” Employers are obligated to ensure that protective clothing is maintained adequately such that in the event of a flash fire, the clothing will perform as designed. This means that employers must train their employees in “proper laundering procedures and techniques” and “inspect the clothing on a regular basis” to ensure that it is not in need of repair or replacement. If an employer cannot train on proper laundering procedures or cannot inspect the clothing regularly, the employer is then responsible for laundering the fire retarding clothing.
Interpretation Letters are only advisory but they indicate OSHA’s approach to enforcement with respect to personal protective equipment and fire retarding clothing. Accordingly, employers should review their policies regarding laundering of fire retarding clothing and consider implementing or updating training and inspection programs if employees are permitted to launder their own clothing.