Occupational Safety and Health Administration OSHA

This guidance is not a standard or regulation, and it creates no new legal obligations. It contains recommendations as well as descriptions of mandatory safety and health standards. The recommendations are advisory in nature, informational in content, and are intended to assist employers in providing a safe and healthful workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to comply with safety and health standards and regulations promulgated by OSHA or by a state with an OSHA-approved state plan. In addition, the Act's General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1), requires employers to provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.

This section provides guidance for solid waste and wastewater management workers and employers. This guidance supplements the general interim guidance for workers and employers of workers at increased risk of occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2.

Employers should remain alert of changing outbreak conditions, including as they relate to community spread of the virus and testing availability, and implement infection prevention measures accordingly. As states or regions satisfy the gating criteria to progress through the phases of the guidelines for Opening up America Again, employers will likely be able to adapt this guidance to better suit evolving risk levels and necessary control measures in their workplaces.

Employers should assess the hazards to which their workers may be exposed; evaluate the risk of exposure; and select, implement, and ensure workers use controls to prevent exposure. The table below provides examples of waste management work tasks associated with the exposure risk levels in OSHA's occupational exposure risk pyramid, which may serve as a guide to employers in this sector.

Examples of waste management work tasks associated with exposure risk levels

Lower (caution)
Medium
High
Very High
  • Handling municipal waste.
  • Handling recyclable materials.
  • Managing wastewater treatment systems.
  • Performing maintenance tasks on equipment used to process municipal waste, recyclable materials, or wastewater.

Note: For activities in the lower (caution) risk category, OSHA's Interim Guidance for Workers and Employers of Workers at Lower Risk of Exposure may be most appropriate.

  • Handling waste from healthcare facilities generated in the care of suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients.

Note: The designation of medium risk for this task is consistent with occupational exposure risks for handling any routine medical waste—not just that of COVID-19 patients. Employers and workers should continue to use routine controls for this type of work task.

  • Performing maintenance tasks on equipment used to process medical waste.

Note: Again, employers and workers should continue to use routine controls for this type of work task.

  • Category not applicable for most anticipated work tasks.

Note: Most solid waste and wastewater management work tasks are associated with no more than medium exposure risk; see the other columns of this chart.

  • Category not applicable for most anticipated work tasks.

Note: Most solid waste and wastewater management work tasks are associated with no more than medium exposure risk; see the other columns of this chart. Avoid tasks that would place workers in this risk category, such as shredding waste, that could re-aerosolize potentially infectious SARS-CoV-2 from environmental surfaces.

Generally, management of waste that is suspected or known to contain or be contaminated with COVID-19 does not require special precautions beyond those already used to protect workers from the hazards they encounter during their routine job tasks in solid waste and wastewater management.

Some state, local, tribal and/or territorial health or environmental department(s) may have different or additional requirements for managing solid waste and wastewater.

Municipal Waste

Workers and employers should manage municipal (e.g., household, business) solid waste with potential or known SARS-CoV-2 contamination like any other non-contaminated municipal waste.

Use typical engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, and PPE, such as puncture-resistant gloves and face and eye protection, to prevent worker exposure to the waste streams (or types of wastes), including any contaminants in the materials, they manage. Such measures can help protect workers from sharps and other items that can cause injuries or exposures to infectious materials.

Medical Waste

For medical waste with potential or known COVID-19 contamination, manage like any other regulated medical waste. COVID-19 is not a Category A infectious substance.

Use typical engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, and PPE, such as puncture-resistant gloves and face and eye protection, to prevent worker exposure to the waste streams (or types of wastes), including any contaminants in the materials, they manage. Such measures can help protect workers from sharps and other items that can cause injuries or exposures to infectious materials.

For regulated medical waste information, consult the regulated medical waste information in CDC's Guidelines for Environmental Infection Control in Health-Care Facilities (2003). This document provides additional information related to the management of waste streams from hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

CDC also provides information on medical waste management as a Question and Answer page on its coronavirus website.

Recycling

As with municipal waste, employers and workers in the recycling industry should continue to use typical engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, and PPE, such as puncture-resistant gloves and face and eye protection, to prevent worker exposure to recyclable materials they manage, including any contaminants in the materials.

Wastewater

Coronaviruses are susceptible to the same disinfection conditions in the healthcare setting as other viruses, so current disinfection conditions in wastewater treatment facilities are expected to be sufficient. This includes conditions for practices such as oxidation with hypochlorite (i.e., chlorine bleach) and peracetic acid, as well as inactivation through the use of ultraviolet irradiation.

There is no evidence to suggest that additional, COVID-19-specific protections are needed for employees involved in wastewater management operations, including those at wastewater treatment facilities. Wastewater treatment plant operations should ensure workers follow routine practices to prevent exposure to wastewater, including using the engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, and PPE normally required for work tasks when handling untreated wastewater.

The CDC provides additional information about wastewater management.

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