Health and Safety Recommendations for
Workers Who Handle Human Remains
Employers and workers face a variety of health hazards when handling, or working
near, human remains. Workers directly involved in recovery or other efforts
that require the handling of human remains are susceptible to bloodborne viruses
such as hepatitis and HIV, and bacteria that cause diarrheal diseases, such as
shigella and salmonella.
The following precautionary measures can help
employers and employees remain safe and
healthy while handling human remains.
Personal Protective Equipment
- Hand Protection. When handling potentially
infectious materials, use appropriate barrier
protection including latex and nitrile gloves
(powder-free latex gloves with reduced latex
protein content can help avoid reaction to
latex allergies). These gloves can be worn
under heavy-duty gloves which will, in turn,
protect the wearer from cuts, puncture
wounds, or other injuries that break the skin
(caused by sharp environmental debris or
bone fragments). A combination of a cut-proof
inner layer glove and a latex or similar outer
layer is preferable.
- Foot Protection. Footwear should similarly
protect against sharp debris.
- Eye and Face Protection. To protect your face
from splashes of body fluids and fecal material,
use a plastic face shield or a combination
of eye protection (indirectly vented safety goggles
are a good choice if available; safety
glasses will only provide limited protection)
and a surgical mask.
- Maintain hand hygiene to prevent transmission
of diarrheal and other diseases from fecal
materials on your hands. Wash your hands
with soap and water or with an alcohol-based
hand cleaner immediately after you remove
- Give prompt care to any wounds sustained
during work with human remains, including
immediate cleansing with soap and clean
water. Workers should also be vaccinated
against hepatitis B, and get a tetanus booster
- Never wear PPE and underlying clothing if it is
damaged or penetrated by body fluids.
- Ensure disinfection of vehicles and equipment.
- Lifting or moving heavy objects, particularly
when done repetitively, can result in injuries to
the workers involved. Human remains that
have been in water for some time are likely to
be even heavier than normal. Having more
than one person involved in lifting the human
remains will help to reduce the potential for
injury. Following appropriate lifting techniques
will also help to protect people, as will
the use of mechanical lifts or other devices
- There is no direct risk of contagion or infectious
disease from being near human remains
for those who are not directly involved in
recovery or other efforts that require handling
- Viruses associated with human remains (e.g.,
hepatitis B and C, HIV, various bacteria, etc.)
do not pose a risk to someone walking nearby,
nor do they cause significant environmental
- The smell of human decay is unpleasant; however,
it does not create a public health hazard.
- For more information on this, and other health-related issues affecting workers, visit OSHA's Web site at www.osha.gov. More detailed guidance
addressing this topic can be found on the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) Website at http://www.cdc.gov.
This is one in a series of informational fact sheets highlighting OSHA programs, policies or standards. It does not impose any new compliance requirements. For a comprehensive list of compliance requirements of OSHA standards or regulations, refer to Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations. This information will be made available to sensory impaired individuals upon request. The voice phone is (202) 693-1999; teletypewriter (TTY) number: (877) 889-5627.
For more complete information:
Safety and Health
U.S. Department of Labor