Are Cut-Resistant Gloves Required in Food Service?

By Eric J. Conn Mar 22, 2013

Employers in the restaurant, delicatessen and grocery industries frequently ask whether the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand protection regulations require the use of cut-resistant gloves for employees who work with knives or slicers. Some employers have even reported that OSHA representatives have told them that the use of cut-resistant gloves is mandatory for employees working with knives in food service. Whether food service employees in kitchens, delicatessens or grocery stores are required to wear cut-resistant gloves, however, is not as clear-cut as OSHA has apparently been suggesting.

What is clear is that OSHA’s PPE standards are “performance-based” standards, not “specification” standards. That means that the PPE standards do not proscribe specific PPE for specific circumstances. Rather, the standards defer to employers’ reasonable judgment about what PPE is necessary, for which employees, in which circumstances.

The applicable standard, 29 CFR 1910.138(a), provides:

“Employers shall select and require employees to use appropriate hand protection when employees’ hands are exposed to hazards such as those from skin absorption of harmful substances; severe cuts or lacerations; severe abrasions; punctures; chemical burns; thermal burns; and harmful temperature extremes.”

1910.138(a) is part of a series of standards regarding PPE for various parts of the body that stem from a general PPE requirement set forth at 1910.132(d)(1), which provides that:

Employers “shall assess the workplace to determine if hazards are present, or are likely to be present, which necessitate the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).”

Under the plain language of these regulations, and a long history of enforcement policies and Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission case law, if employers perform a good-faith hazard assessment in connection with the work activities and equipment at their workplace, and they conclude based on that assessment that employees are not exposed to laceration/amputation hazards or that cut-resistant gloves are not appropriate PPE, and the conclusion is reasonable, then no citation should issue.

A July 3, 1995, Interpretation Letter issued by OSHA confirms this view of the PPE standards:

“What the employer is required to do is to perform a hazard assessment, and OSHA would expect that an employer will be particularly careful before considering that none of its employees in the listed occupations are exposed to hazards which necessitated the use of PPE. In litigation, of course, it would be OSHA’s burden to prove that a hazard assessment was not done. OSHA also believes that a standard of objective reasonableness is implicit in the requirement, and that accordingly, OSHA could cite for an unreasonable assessment. Again, the burden of proof would be on OSHA.”

Factors that will impact the reasonableness of an employer’s hazard assessment include:

  • The existence of past injuries (i.e., lacerations or amputations on past OSHA 300 Logs).
  • Employee input (e.g., employees generally dislike gloves in this context because they sacrifice feel and dexterity of their fingers in relation to the blade).
  • The presence of other controls that protect against cuts, such as administrative safe-cutting procedures and training, or engineering and equipment controls.

Eric J. Conn is the head of the OSHA Practice Group at Epstein, Becker, Green’s Washington, D.C., office.

Republished with permission. © 2013 Epstein, Becker, Green.

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