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.

June 5, 1998

Mr. Alfred E. Galletta
Atlantic Blueberry Co.
7201 Weymouth Road
Hammonton, New Jersey 08037

Dear Mr. Galletta:

This responds to your letter to Acting Administrator John Fraser, regarding your desire to provide a waterless handcleaning system for use by workers on your blueberry farm in lieu of a "handwashing facility" as defined in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards at 29 Code of Federal Regulations Part 1928.110 (see enclosed). Your letter was referred to this office for response.

As you know, the safety and health hazards confronted by those who work in agriculture each day are many. The work is physically demanding and exposure to various biological and chemical hazards is a fact of life in labor-intensive agriculture. Farmworker's hands accumulate plant and produce juices, agricultural chemical residues, and pathogenic organisms, which often become embedded in layers of dirt on the skin and can be inadvertently ingested or absorbed through the skin if not properly removed.

To reduce the risks to safety and health posed by these multiple hazards, OSHA promulgated standards 29 CFR Part 1928.110, which became fully effective as of July 30, 1987. Secretary's Order 5-96, dated December 27, 1996 (see enclosed), delegated the authority to enforce these standards to the Wage and Hour Division of the Employment Standards Administration.

The standards require, among other things, that covered employers provide potable drinking water, handwashing, and toilet facilities in the proper ratio to the number of workers present on any given day. The term "handwashing facility" is defined at 1928.110(b) as meaning

" a facility providing either a basin, container, or outlet with an adequate supply of potable water, soap and single-use towels."

In developing this definition, OSHA solicited, received, and relied upon the testimony of health professionals, industry representatives, worker advocates, and other interested parties. Based upon the testimony and weight of the scientific evidence obtained during the rulemaking process, OSHA concluded that the most effective overall level of protection from both the biological and chemical hazards agricultural workers are exposed to would be provided by a handwashing facility as defined above.

In addition, it is important to note that OSHA specifically sought information during the rulemaking process regarding the adequacy of alternatives to soap and water in reducing exposure threats from both agrichemicals and pathogenic organisms (see Vol. 52, No. 84 Federal Register 16091, dated May 1, 1987 - copy enclosed). A number of commenters responded to OSHA's request, and the testimony and comments received from health professionals overwhelmingly supported OSHA's definition of a "handwashing facility" as representing the most effective means by which to reduce the risks to health and safety associated with the various hazards farmworkers are exposed to on the job. Several medical professionals testified that not only can the use of running water (particularly when used in conjunction with soap) help reduce pathogen levels below those which lead to infection, but it also dilutes hazardous agrichemicals and helps in treating eye or skin injuries (which require continuous flushing with potable water).

Just as with respect to determining what should constitute a "handwashing facility," OSHA solicited testimony from experts and other interested parties during the rulemaking process regarding what the best ratio of toilets to workers should be for hand-laborers in agriculture. The 1:20 ratio required under 29 CFR Part 1928.110 is based not only upon medical evidence regarding the serious hazards to health posed by a lack of either availability or access to toilets throughout the workday, but on industry provided testimony regarding "best-use" ratios for the most commonly used type of toilet facility as well (see Vol. 52, No. 64 FR 16088, 16089, and 16090). The weight of the evidence and testimony clearly supported establishing the ratio at 1:20 for field sanitation.

Please feel free to contact my office should you have any questions or concerns at (202) 219-7605.

Sincerely,

Michael Hancock
Office of Enforcement Policy
Farm Labor Team