On June 1, 2015, federal OSHA released an Interpretation Letter requiring that employers train employees on the laundering requirements of fire retarding (FR) and arc-rated clothing.

The question, submitted to OSHA by the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, sought OSHA’s enforcement position on the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Standard, 29 C.F.R. § 1926.95. The Union inquired as to whether the employer or employees were responsible for the laundering of fire retarding (FR) and arc-rated clothing provided to employees.

In response, the Agency explained that employers must ensure that protective clothing is maintained in a reliable condition. Where employees are expected to launder their own clothing at home, employers must train employees in “proper laundering procedures and techniques.” Employers then must inspect clothing on a regular basis to ensure that it is not in need of repair or replacement. According to OSHA, if an employer is unable to train employees on proper laundering procedures or is unable to inspect clothing regularly, the employer must launder the clothing itself.

While an Interpretation Letter is only advisory, the position taken in this letter demonstrates federal OSHA’s increasingly aggressive enforcement with regard to PPE and FR clothing. OSHA presents employers with a Hobson’s Choice: pay to collect and launder employee clothing, or be responsible for an adequate laundry training and clothing inspection program. Accordingly, employers should consider reviewing their policies for laundering PPE and seek compliance with the regulation.