OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov.
May 25, 1990
Ms. Carole Frings
Federal Agency Representative
American Dental Association
1111 14th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20005
Dear Ms. Frings:
This letter will reiterate and confirm our discussion of May 9, regarding the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) requirement, under Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, that employers offer the hepatitis B vaccine to employees. For clarity we will restate each of your questions and follow it with our response.
Question 1: Can new employees start working before the series of three vaccinations is completed?
Answer: OSHA requires that the vaccine be offered in amounts and at times prescribed by standard medical practice. There is no evidence which would warrant a cessation of work until the series is completed. Therefore, new employees may start working before the series is completed.
OSHA anticipates that new hires will receive an orientation session to include the hazards (chemical, physical, and biological) of their work environment. This session should provide infor- mation on the hazards of bloodborne pathogens and the availability, free of charge, of the vaccine. Because of the risk of exposure to hepatitis B to employees, OSHA expects this information to be offered, and arrangements made for those employees who choose to receive the vaccine, with all deliberate speed. OSHA will, of course, take into a consideration the availability of the vaccine and efforts exerted by the employer to obtain it.
Question 2: What is OSHA's policy on probationary employees?
Answer: If probationary employees work in the same situations which place non-probationary employees at risk, then they are exposed to the same hazards and must be provided the same protection within the same time frame as other new employees.
Question 3: What is OSHA's policy on short-term employees?
Answer: If short-term employees work in the same situations which place permanent employees at risk, then they are exposed to the same hazards and must be provided the same protection. As discussed in my answer to Question 1, these employees should be provided with the information and the vaccine in a timely manner.
Of course, employees who are hired as receptionists or bookkeepers need not be offered the vaccine if they have no exposure to bloodborne hazards.
We hope this information is responsive to your concerns. Thank you for your interest in employee safety and health.
Alan C. McMillan
Deputy Assistant Secretary