When I was just starting out in the trades, I complained to
my employer that the polyurethane finishes I was applying
were giving me headaches. He said, "Here, try this respirator,"
and handed me a 17¢ dust mask. It was up to me to do
the research, identify the hazard, and provide my own
NIOSH-approved protection from VOCs (volatile organic
No longer. OSHA passed a ruling that went into effect on
October 5, 1994, that places the responsibility for choosing
"personal protective equipment" (PPE), and for making sure
that employees use it, squarely on the shoulders of the
Deciding who pays for all this stuff is a slightly grayer area.