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.



January 26, 1993



SUBJECT: Preservation of Criminal Evidence and Acceptability of Dry Cleaning under 29 CFR 1910.1030


This is in response to your memo of July 17, 1992 which you requested several clarifications of the Occupational Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens Standard. We apologize for the delay in this response.

Your first question dealt with the issue of preserving criminal evidence by fire and law enforcement personnel. Specifically you requested information on the methods which could be used to minimize employee exposure to blood-drenched clothing while preserving the integrity of the physical evidence.

Under 29 CFR 1910.1030, such clothing would be considered a specimen. The provisions regarding the handling of specimens include the requirement that specimen containers be closed prior to being stored, transported or shipped. We understand the concern that such storage of material while wet may lead to deterioration of the evidence.

Federal OSHA does not have jurisdiction over local and state law enforcement personnel; states with OSHA approval plans do. One way that such states may deal with this question is to determine whether complying with the specimen storage requirement is infeasible. As a matter of federal law, to prove infeasibility an employer must show that (1) compliance cannot be achieved or (2) that compliance would prevent performance of the work; and (3) that there is no alternative method of compliance. A state plan state may have the same or a stricter infeasibility defense, but it may not be more lenient. Another approach would be for the employer to petition for a variance. The petition should specifically address the closed specimen container requirement for wet evidence. In making such a request, the petitioner must demonstrate that the procedures to be followed will be equally effective in protecting employees against contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials.

For example, when the evidence is initially collected, such blood-drenched clothing would be placed into a closed, labeled/color-coded container to prevent leakage (e.g., a plastic bag, a pan with a lid) for transport to the evidence room. Upon receipt at the evidence room, this material would be removed from the container and hung up to air-dry. Naturally, the persons performing this task would also fall under the standard and would be provided with all of its protections, e.g., training, vaccination, personal protective equipment. In addition, the area where the evidence is hung to dry should be segregated from other areas in order to limit access to those employees who are trained in proper evidence handling procedures and the area should be marked to worn other employees. When dry, the evidence could then be placed in proper, closed specimen containers. All other applicable provisions, including decontamination requirements for reusable containers, contaminated surfaces, and so forth, would remain in effect.

Federal law enforcement personnel (e.g., the Federal Bureau of Investigations) may pursue a variance request, which must provide equivalent or greater protection for affected employees, through the Office of Federal Agency Programs.

Your second question concerned the acceptability of dry cleaning for decontaminating contaminated personal protective equipment. According to Mr. Walter Bond, Infection Control Specialist for the Centers for Disease Control, the solvents and heat used in the dry cleaning process are sufficient to destroy the viruses (see attachments). For feasibility reasons and pending information to the contrary, OSHA will accept dry cleaning of personal protective equipment as complying with the requirement to decontaminate such equipment.

Your final scenario concerns the acceptability of firefighters' removal of gross contamination from their turnout gear with water and then wiping down the gear with an EPA-registered disinfectant. We agree that, for purposes of disinfection, some structural firefighting and protective equipment will have to be treated as an environmental surface rather than as clothing and handled as a piece of equipment would be handled.

We have consulted with the National Fire Academy and attached are sections 14 and 15 of the National Fire Protection Association's Standard 1581, "Fire Department Infection Control Program (1991)." Following removal of gross contamination, turnout (or bunker) gear should be washed using oxygenated bleaches. Chlorine bleach and chlorine-containing agents may not be used as they affect the flame-resistent properties and thermal insulation of the composites and compromise the protection provided by the garments. Affected personnel should also contact the product manufacturer for washing instructions. The NFPA's publications number is (800) 344-3555 if you wish to order a full copy of this standard.

Inactivation of AIDS Virus in Clothing. JAMA 1985:253, No. 17, 2580.
National Fire Protection Association's Standards No. 1581, 1991. S/N 14-15.]

[Corrected 6/2/2005]