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 https://www.osha.gov.

May 19, 1992

The Honorable Dick Schulze
U.S. House of Representatives
Suite 204
10 South Leopard Road
Paoli, Pennsylvania 19301

Dear Congressman Schulze:

Thank you for your letter of March 20, on behalf of your constituent Dr. Thomas M. Hollenbeck, concerning the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). We understand and appreciate your constituent's concerns about complying with OSHA requirements but we believe that when he understands better the motivation and purpose behind them, he will be in a better position to protect his employees, a goal we all share.

Your constituent raised several concerns regarding issues specifically addressed by two OSHA standards, the Occupational Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens regulation, 29 CFR 1910.1030, and OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard, 29 CFR 1910.1200 (HCS). To begin, you should understand that OSHA's most recent standards, including these two, have been written as performance rules. That is to say, they state a general objective to be achieved without stating precise requirements for accomplishing that goal.

To explain, in OSHA's early years, the Agency prescribed exactly what type of fire extinguisher would be required under what circumstances. Most employers objected vigorously to such an approach, with the result that in later years we simply state, in the same example, that employers are to provide fire extinguishers suitable for the types of fire hazards in their workplaces in locations that are readily accessible.

OSHA has used this same general approach in the bloodborne pathogens standard. Instead of stating precisely which employees should be provided gloves, goggles or hazard warnings and which need more extensive protection, we have required that employees be protected through a combination of work practices, engineering controls, training and personal protective equipment to the extent such protection is necessary depending on the extent and type of exposure.

Admittedly, this performance approach requires judgment on the part of employers as to which employees are exposed, how extensively they are exposed and what protection is necessary.

OSHA's HCS was promulgated to ensure that employers and employees know about chemical hazards in their workplaces and how to protect themselves; this should help to reduce the incidence of chemical source illness and injuries. The HCS establishes uniform requirements to make sure that the hazards of all chemicals imported into, produced, or used in all U.S. workplaces are evaluated, and that this hazard information is transmitted to affected employers and exposed employees, via labels on containers, material safety data sheets and employee training on the hazards present. All covered employers must have a hazard communication program which describes how this information will be transmitted and made available to their employees.

With regard to the chemical labeling issue raised by Dr. Hollenbeck, it is not true that "every single bottle and tube in the office must be logged and marked with 'stickers,'" as he indicates in his letter to you. Under the HCS, all containers of hazardous chemicals must be labeled, but, in line with the performance-oriented approach of the rule, employers may rely on and utilize the label provided on the container by the chemical manufacturer. If chemicals covered under the rule are then transferred to other containers for employees' use, those containers must be labeled with the identity of the chemical and an appropriate hazard warning. Items mentioned in your letter ("Mr. Clean," hand soap, floor cleaner and "white out") are consumer products and as such are labeled in accordance with the Consumer Product Safety Commission's requirements. Consumer products used in the workplace only need to be included in an employer's workplace hazard communication program when they are used with such frequency or duration or in a manner which would result in exposures greater than would be experienced during normal consumer uses.

Dr. Hollenbeck also raised concerns about "large fines" given "generally arbitrarily" by OSHA. In order to help explain OSHA inspection procedures and penalties which may be issued for violations of OSHA standards, we are enclosing a copy of the booklet, "OSHA Inspections." This publication explains in detail the Agency's inspection priorities, the inspection process, the use of inspection results including alleged violations of OSHA standards, and provides information on employer's and employee's rights, including the appeals processes. We believe the information in this booklet will help explain that OSHA does not "generally" or "arbitrarily" issue large fines to the dental profession and will help explain Agency inspection priorities and processes.

The performance approach discussed in this letter with regard to the bloodborne pathogens and hazard communication standards is one OSHA has used for many years with employers in industrial settings. It is perhaps unfortunate that the health care industry's first major experience with OSHA should come with standards as comprehensive and important as the hazard communication and the bloodborne standards. We are confident, however, that as your constituents and other health care employers work with these standards and put their own specific requirements in place, most of these requirements will be seen to be simply good common sense.

To further assist your constituent in understanding the new standards, we have enclosed several fact sheets and publications that discuss the standards and their provision.

We hope this information is responsive to your concerns. Thank you for your interest in employee safety and health.


Patricia K. Clark, Director
Directorate of Compliance Programs


cc: Washington, D.C. Office