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Surface Contamination

A "skin" designation serves as a warning that cutaneous absorption should be prevented in order to avoid exceeding the absorbed dose received by inhalation at the permissible exposure level (PEL). The skin designation which appears with some of the chemical hazards in 29 CFR 1910.1000 Table Z-1 is only given to a substance, which may be absorbed through the skin. The use of skin designation does not indicate that the substance may irritate the skin. Similarly, lack of a skin designation does not mean that the substance will not irritate the skin. Biological monitoring can be utilized for some substances to determine the relative contribution of dermal exposure to the total dose.

There is currently no surface contamination criteria or quantifications for skin absorption included in OSHA standards. However, some OSHA standards contain housekeeping provisions that address the issue of surface contamination. Exposures to various chemical components are addressed in specific standards for the general and construction industries.


This section highlights OSHA standards, preambles to final rules (background to final rules), standard interpretations (official letters of interpretation of the standards), other federal standards and national consensus standards related to surface contamination.


Note: Twenty-five states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have OSHA-approved State Plans and have adopted their own standards and enforcement policies. For the most part, these States adopt standards that are identical to Federal OSHA. However, some States have adopted different standards applicable to this topic or may have different enforcement policies.

General Industry (29 CFR 1910)

Construction Industry (29 CFR 1926)

Standard Interpretations

Other Federal

Note: These are NOT OSHA regulations. However, they do provide guidance from their originating organizations related to worker protection.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Standards

  • 40 CFR 761.125, Requirements for PCB spill cleanup. Sections (c)(3) and (c)(4) contain information pertinent to surface contamination.

National Consensus

Note: These are NOT OSHA regulations. However, they do provide guidance from their originating organizations related to worker protection.

American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) Standards

  • E1216-99, Standard Practice for Sampling for Surface Particulate Contamination by Tape Lift. American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). Provides a procedure for sampling surfaces with pressure sensitive tape to determine the presence of particulate contamination, 5 m and larger.

Hazards and Solutions

Many workers are unaware of the potential hazards in their work environment, which makes them more vulnerable to injury. The following references aid in recognizing and controlling surface contamination.

Hazard Recognition

  • Skin Exposures & Effects. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Workplace Safety and Health Topic. Provides information regarding issues of occupational skin exposures and prevention of ill-health.

Possible Solutions

Possible controls to prevent surface contamination include engineering design, work practices, substitution, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page. Provides a collection of occupational safety and health information designed to help familiarize the individual with common personal protective equipment (PPE) practices and OSHA policy regarding the use of PPE.

  • CDC Announces Issuance of Patent for Detecting the Presence of Lead. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), (2002, October 17). Announces CDC's issuance of a patent for a hand wipe that can quickly and easily detect the presence of lead on skin, the steering wheels and other surfaces of vehicles used in industries where lead is produced or used, and surfaces such as tables, floors, walls and window sills.

Exposure Evaluation

Surface contamination may cause serious injury and permanent damage. Workers that may be exposed need to be aware of the evaluation methods for hazards in their work environment. The following references aid in evaluating surface contamination hazards in the workplace.

Exposure Evaluation

  • Lead Test Kits. OSHA. Includes the summary performance evaluation of commercially available kits for field testing lead in paint and other solid materials.

  • Field Operations Manual (FOM). OSHA Directive CPL 02-00-150, (2011, April 22).

  • Ness, Shirley A. Surface and Dermal Monitoring for Toxic Exposure. New York: Wiley, 1994. Includes techniques and applications of wipe sampling for surface contamination and methods for estimating dermal exposure of workers.

  • Leung, H. W. and D. J. Paustenbach. "Techniques for Estimating Percutaneous Absorption of Chemicals Due to Occupational and Environmental Exposure." Applied Occupational Environmental Hygiene 9.3(1994): 187-97. Assists industrial hygienists in assessing the risks of dermal uptake of chemicals in workplaces, lists of absorption rates and example calculations including the use of wipe sampling to estimate skin exposure are presented.

  • "Occupational Skin Exposure to Chemical Substances." Applied Occupational Environmental Hygiene 9.1(1994, January).

  • Caplan, K. J. "The Significance of Wipe Samples." American Industrial Hygiene Association 54.2(1993, February): 70-75. Indicates that there is no correlation between surface contamination levels as determined by wipe sampling and air concentration levels. Wipe sample levels can be useful in estimating dermal exposure if skin absorption data is available.

  • Lioy, P. J., T. Wainman, and C. Weisel. "A Wipe Sampler for the Quantitative Measurement of Dust on Smooth Surfaces: Laboratory Performance Studies." Journal or Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology 3(1993): 315-330.

  • Stopa, P. J., et. al. "Recovery of Biological Materials from Surfaces, Field Screening Methods for Hazardous Wastes and Toxic Chemicals." Air and Waste Management Association, Proceedings of the 1993 Environmental Protection Agency/Air and Waste Management Association (EPA/A&WMA) International Symposium, 2(1993): 1076-1081.

  • Lichtenwalner, C. P. "Evaluation of Wipe Sampling Procedures and Elemental Surface Contamination." American Industrial Hygiene Association Journal 53(1992): 657-9.

  • McArthur, B. "Dermal Measurement and Wipe Sampling Methods: A Review." Applied Occupational and Environmental Hygiene 7.9(1992, September): 599-606. Provides a summary of several direct and indirect methods which may be used to assess dermal exposure.

Sampling and Analysis

Additional Information

Related Safety and Health Topics Pages

Other Resources

  • Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control. US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Provides links to the various sections of this regulation and to related documents.
    • Rebuild Healthy Homes - Safe Rehabilitation of Hurricane-Damaged Homes [7 MB PDF, 57 pages]. Describes how to set up cleanup/health safety stations, containment areas, creating a poly-flap seal, what PPE to wear, gutting and tearing out procedures, surface cleaning and treatment, vacuuming surfaces, borate treatment, and a list of supplies and materials is included in the appendix.

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