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.

December 11, 1998

Mr. Darrel Giraud
Florida Area Manager
Kem Medical Products Corp.
5025 SW 91 Terrace
Cooper City, FL 33328

Dear Mr. Giraud:

This is in response to your letter of September 1, addressed to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) Directorate of Compliance Programs. In your letter you requested clarification as to whether 29 CFR 1910.1047(h)(2) of the Ethylene Oxide Standard promulgated by OSHA requires that an ethylene oxide alarm system with sensors be located in front of an ethylene oxide sterilizer, in the sterilizer maintenance room, and in all areas where the employer stores tanks or cartridges of ethylene oxide.

Title 29 CFR 1910.1047(h)(2) states:

"Alerting employees." Where there is the possibility of employee exposure to EtO due to an emergency, means shall be developed to alert potentially affected employees of such occurrences promptly. Affected employees shall be immediately evacuated from the area in the event that an emergency occurs.

Note that the provision does not specify that an ethylene oxide alarm system with sensors must be used for alerting employees about an exposure hazard posed by an ethylene oxide emergency. It simply requires that a means be used that alerts them promptly. As stated in the preamble to the ethylene oxide standard, the performance language of 29 CFR 1910.1047(h)(2) gives employers the flexibility to choose any effective method of alerting employees, including communications systems, voice communication, or a bell or other alarm. (See Federal Register / Vol. 49, No. 122 / June 22, 1984, page 25783.)

The only situation that could require the use of an ethylene oxide alarm system with sensors would be one where it were established that this was the only means of promptly alerting employees about an ethylene oxide emergency.

We appreciate the opportunity to clarify this matter for you. If you have further questions, you may contact OSHA's Office of Health Compliance Assistance at (202) 693-2142.


Richard E. Fairfax
Directorate of Compliance Programs