Long Pants, Breaks, and Safety Rules

A discussion of clothing requirements and lunch and break rules in wood shops. March 28, 2010

The other day, I had an employee cut the metal bands on a lift of melamine. When he went to throw the bands away, one brushed his back leg and cut him, requiring ER and stitches. This has been a one time event in 18 years. Do you require your employees to wear long pants? Also, my employees are working through lunch so they can go home early. I feel they need the down time to regain their momentum and to take a deep breath... Any feelings on this?

Forum Responses
(Dust Collection and Safety Equipment Forum)
From contributor L:
I'm pretty sure that OSHA requires long pants in an industrial environment. If the guys are doing good work and don't make mistakes, I don't see why you should force them to take a break they don't want. You should also be giving them 2 - 10 minute breaks each day. That should give them enough time to replenish themselves.

From contributor O:
It is, I believe, a requirement for employees to take lunch and also breaks throughout the day. If you, the employer, are aware your employees are not following the rules, you will be subject to the discipline also. It would be well for you to bone up on the laws, to cover your employees and your own posterior.

From contributor D:
I'm not sure about OSHA on the pants. Do you let them wear sandals? I personally ask employees to wear long pants. It is work. Dress for work. As far as lunch goes, they have to take at least 2 - 10 minute breaks (paid) and 1 - 30 minute lunch (minimum, unpaid) per work day. If they are working overtime, they may even get another 10 minute (paid). They may all agree to it and things are fine, then you let someone go and they rat you out. You get audited and you have to pay.

From contributor J:
I am a safety director for a large construction/civil engineering company, so OSHA happens to be my thing. As far as a requirement for long pants, there really is no regulation that requires long pants. But there is a requirement for personal protective equipment. This may include appropriate garments based upon the hazards associated with the job. They make suggestions everywhere that appropriate garments should be worn in many different tasks.

Are they required in a cabinet or woodshop? I would say that they are, and although OSHA may not state specifically that "in wood or cabinet shops long pants are required," the General Duty Clause dictates that employers do everything that is reasonably possible to protect workers from injury. This would include making requirements for basic levels of work wear.

As the employer, the responsibility is yours to assess the hazard, and make policy/procedure to eliminate or mitigate the hazard.

On allowing employees to work through lunch time, even though you do not require/ask them to do it, depending on the state and their overtime laws, you are really opening yourself up to stiff penalties and fines, including back wages, if one of them decides to say something to the wrong person or decides to lawyer up for some reason. If they are already working an 8 hour day, and they work through an unpaid lunch period, you may owe them overtime and penalties.

From contributor F:
Protect yourself at all costs. I worked for a company for 12 years and the owners would do anything for their employees. It turns out one guy sued them for an injury and it cost them over 6 years and $700,000.00 in attorney fees. It went to court and the company defended itself and beat the guy's case. It still cost the company, but it cost the guy nothing due to workers comp. I know I want to be a nice boss and have all the fun in the world. But man, this is your family, money, home that they are playing with - protect it.

From contributor N:
OSHA calls it "hazard assessment and equipment selection," which basically means that if hazards are present or likely to be present, the employer shall follow a number of rules regarding Personal Protective Equipment. I'd check out Subpart I of OSHA's general industry manual as soon as possible to make sure you're acting professionally. OSHA tends to phrase things with catch-alls, so I'd be cautious. You can always call them directly and anonymously. Safety is a slippery slope and there's no easy way to start.

From contributor H:
Breaks and lunch regulations are determined by the state and vary widely from state to state. In Utah paid breaks are not required (I give (2) 15 minute breaks). Unpaid lunch breaks are required to be available, but are not required to be taken.

I do not require my guys to wear long pants. We are not on a construction site and I don't want to wear long pants in the summer, so I don't make my guys wear them. I know there is no specific requirement for cabinet shops to wear pants, so I take the leeway that they allow. If my guys go to a commercial job site, I make them wear pants.