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.

September 30, 1992

Diane O. Fleming, Ph.D.
Committee on Laboratory Practices,
Chair, Subcommittee on Laboratory Safety,
American Society of Microbiology Public and Scientific Affairs Board
1325 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20210

Dear Dr. Fleming:

This is in response to your letter of July 10, in which you requested an interpretation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulation 29 CFR 1910.1030, "Occupational Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens." You have subsequently discussed this matter with Mr. David Kendall of this office; this letter is to confirm the information he has previously provided to you.

Specifically, you asked about the application of the personal protective equipment requirements of the standard with respect to the use of gloves in subculturing microorganisms isolated from blood or other potentially infectious materials. As you are aware, the personal protective equipment requirements of the standard are performance oriented. That is, it is the employer's responsibility to evaluate the task and the type of exposure expected and, based on the determination, select the "appropriate" personal protective equipment in accordance with paragraph (d)(3)(i) of the standard. In this case, gloves must be provided and used where there is reasonable anticipation of employee hand contact with blood, other potentially infectious material, mucous membranes, or non-intact skin; or when handling or touching contaminated surfaces or items.

OSHA agrees with you that gloves are not necessary when handling subcultures as long as hand contact with blood or other potentially infectious material or contaminated surfaces is not anticipated. It is our understanding that this position is consistent with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and National Institute of Health (NIH) guidelines "Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories" (May 1988, HHS Publication No. (NIH) 88-8395). The guidelines state that at Biosafety Level 2, which you have referred to as applicable to your clinical work, gloves should be worn "...when skin contact with infectious materials is unavoidable...." The required use of gloves is therefore dependent on a determination of whether or not such exposure through skin contact is reasonably anticipated during subculturing and any other task or procedure where occupational exposure may occur. The final determination must take into account all factors pertaining to the tasks and procedures being performed at a particular worksite including an evaluation through direct observation of employee work practices.

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


Roger A. Clark,
Acting Director
Directorate of Compliance Programs