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.

April 15, 1999

Ms. Joan L. Davis, RN, MS, COHN-S
Corporate Occupational Health Services
Abbott Laboratories
200 Abbott Park Road
Building AP52-South
Abbott Park, IL 60064-3537

Dear Ms. Davis:

This is in response to your letter dated January 20, addressed to the Director of Compliance Programs, regarding the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) requirements of 29 CFR 1910.1020, Access to employee exposure and medical records. Your question was related to an employer's obligation to maintain and transfer medical records after the specified retainment period has passed.

In your letter you specifically stated:

“It is my understanding that once the obligatory retainment period has passed, an employer may dispose of such medical records. (i.e., there is no need to forward such records to NIOSH or any other agency for keeping, if the employer has already retained the records for the required time.)”

The records retention requirements in 29 CFR 1910.1020(h)(3) state that if an employer intends to dispose of records subject to this regulation at the end of the thirty-year retention period, the employer must:

(i) Transfer the records to the Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) if so required by a specific occupational safety and health standard; or

(ii) Notify the Director of NIOSH in writing of the impending disposal of records at least three (3) months prior to the disposal of the records.

To adhere to the above requirement, you do not automatically have to transfer medical records to NIOSH after the retention period has passed unless another OSHA standard specifically requires it. When no other OSHA standard specifically requires that the records be transferred, then you can meet the above requirement by sending a letter to the Director of NIOSH stating that you intend to dispose of the records at the end of the retention period. You must give NIOSH at least 3 months' notice prior to the disposal of the records. If NIOSH does not request that your records be transferred to them, you may dispose of them at the end of the retention period or the end of the 3-months' notice period, whichever is later.

An example of a standard that contains more stringent requirements than 1910.1020(h)(3) is 1910.1044, the OSHA standard for 1,2-dibromo-3-chloropropane. The recordkeeping requirements in this standard mandate that the employer must send the exposure monitoring and medical surveillance records generated in compliance with this standard to the Director of NIOSH at the end of the retention period.

Based on your letter, I would also like to clarify the retention periods for records covered by 1910.1020. The rule covers records of employee exposure to toxic substances and harmful physical agents (as defined by 1910.1020(c)(5)) and employee personal medical records (as defined by 1910.1020(c)(6)). Exposure records must be maintained for 30 years. Medical records must be maintained for the duration of employment plus 30 years. Paragraph (d)(1)(i) provides exemptions to the employment plus 30 years preservation requirement for some medical records, such as certain first aid records and medical records of employees who have worked for less than one year for the employer if the records are provided to the employee upon employment termination. In addition, paragraph (d)(1)(ii) identifies some exposure records that need not be maintained for 30 years, such as certain background data to environmental (workplace) monitoring.

I hope that this information is helpful. If there is further need of clarification on this letter, please contact Ms. MaryAnn Garrahan in the Office of Health Compliance Assistance at (202) 219-8036.

Sincerely,

Richard Fairfax
Director
Directorate of Compliance Programs