- Safety and Health Topics
Anthrax is an acute infectious disease caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis (BA). BA is particularly dangerous because it normally is found in the environment (e.g., in soil) as microscopic endospores. These spores, as they are commonly called, are dormant structures that can survive for many years, even when exposed to very hot or cold temperatures, dry conditions, chemicals, radiation, or other factors. Contact with BA bacteria or viable BA spores may lead to severe infection in both people and animals.
Although anthrax is a very serious disease, it is not contagious like a cold or the flu. People and animals can be infected through different routes of exposure (e.g., cutaneous, inhalation, or ingestion) when they have contact with anthrax-infected animals, contaminated animal products, or other sources of BA spores; or when they breathe in BA spores suspended in the air.
Because BA is a threat to both human and animal health, it can be used as a biological weapon. The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA) classify BA as a Tier 1 agent on their Select Agents and Toxins Lists.
This Safety and Health Topics page is designed to serve as a resource for employers and workers with increased risk for exposure to BA because of their job functions, or who may be exposed through accidental or intentional releases. OSHA's Bioterrorism Safety and Health Topics page provides additional information about emergency response for biological agents.
The web page includes the following sections:
This page provides a summary of the hazards from exposure to BA, including information on its viability, infectiousness, and sources of or circumstances leading to exposure.
This page presents information on the risk of infection through exposure to BA spores, lists the job categories at the highest risk for potential exposure, and provides guidance on assessing risk of exposure.
There are currently no specific OSHA standards for occupational exposure to butter-flavoring, diacetyl, or 2,3-pentanedione. However, OSHA standards regulating all workplaces offer protection to workers exposed to these substances.
This page highlights OSHA standards, letters of interpretation, directives (instructions for compliance officers) and other regulatory requirements that may apply in the event of possible worker exposure to BA.
Control and Prevention
This page provides general guidance applicable across all job categories at risk for potential exposure to BA. It also presents specific guidance for workers and employers in job categories with increased risk for BA exposure.
This page provides links to OSHA resources on BA and anthrax, as well as resources from other federal agencies, states, international agencies, non-profit organizations, and peer-reviewed journal articles.
How do I find out about employer responsibilities and workers' rights?
Workers have a right to a safe workplace. The law requires employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplaces. The OSHA law also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under the law (including the right to raise a health and safety concern or report an injury). For more information see www.whistleblowers.gov or Workers' rights under the OSH Act.
OSHA can help answer questions or concerns from employers and workers. To reach your regional or area OSHA office, go to the OSHA Offices by State webpage or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).
Small business employers may contact OSHA's free and confidential On-site Consultation program to help determine whether there are hazards at their worksites and work with OSHA on correcting any identified hazards. Consultants in this program from state agencies or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice on compliance with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing injury and illness prevention programs. On-site Consultation services are separate from enforcement activities and do not result in penalties or citations. To contact OSHA's free consultation service, go to OSHA's On-site Consultation web page or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) and press number 4.
Workers may file a complaint to have OSHA inspect their workplace if they believe that their employer is not following OSHA standards or that there are serious hazards. Workers can file a complaint with OSHA by calling 1-800-321-OSHA (6742), online via eComplaint Form, or by printing the complaint form and mailing or faxing it to the local OSHA area office. Complaints that are signed by a worker are more likely to result in an inspection.
If you think your job is unsafe or if you have questions, contact OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742). Your contact will be kept confidential. We can help. For other valuable worker protection information, such as Workers' Rights, Employer Responsibilities, and other services OSHA offers, visit OSHA's Workers' page.
This web page 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 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.
1 Anthrax. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
- Anthrax is an infectious disease, but generally does not spread from person to person like a cold or flu.
- Anthrax is rare in the United States; however, occasional outbreaks occur in wild and domestic grazing animals, such as deer and cattle.
- Anthrax is most common in agricultural regions of Central and South America, sub-Saharan Africa, central and southwestern Asia, southern and Eastern Europe, and the Caribbean.
- Anthrax symptoms depend on the route of exposure (cutaneous, inhalation, ingestion). Symptoms can appear in as little as one day or more than two months after exposure.1