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.

July 20, 2000

Mr. Jim Dunn
Vice President
Dornach Medical Systems, Inc.
4032 West Riverside Street
Riverside, MO 64150

Dear Mr. Dunn:

Thank you for your April 27 facsimile sent to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) Directorate of Compliance Programs. You had specific questions regarding the applicability of OSHA's Enforcement Procedures for the Occupational Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens, CPL 2-2.44D, and the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, 29 CFR 1910.1030 to splashes, splatters, and aerosolization of blood and other potential infectious materials (OPIM) from suction canisters. You have been in contact with our staff who have provided you with feedback on this issue; we hope that this letter serves as additional guidance. Please be aware that this response may not be applicable to any question not delineated within your original correspondence. Your questions are restated below followed by OSHA's response.

  1. Must an employer institute engineering and work practice controls as the primary means of protecting employees from exposure to fluids collected in suction canisters?

  2. Is the use of personal protective equipment appropriate only after implementing such engineering controls?

According to OSHA's traditional adherence to a hierarchy of controls and basic industrial hygiene practice, engineering controls and work practice controls must be instituted as the primary means of eliminating or minimizing employee exposure. This has always been required by OSHA.

If the fluids collected in the suction canisters that you describe meet OSHA's definition of blood or OPIM, they would constitute a hazard regulated by the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard. In accordance with paragraph (d)(2)(i) of the standard, an employer must use engineering and work practice controls that eliminate occupational exposure or reduce it to the lowest feasible extent. After the proper engineering and work practice controls have been implemented and a possible exposure still exists, personal protective equipment must be provided and its use ensured by the employer.

  1. Is the onsite pouring of fluids without the aid of an engineering control an acceptable practice under the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard?

Again, where engineering and work practice controls will reduce employee exposure either by removing, eliminating, or isolating the hazard, they must be used. This would include controls for pouring blood or OPIM, as splashes and splatters may result in exposure to bloodborne pathogens. During an employer's annual review of its Exposure Control Plan (ECP), as required by the standard, it must evaluate the practices and processes used in its facility and address the methods by which it controls specific bloodborne pathogen hazards. It must identify the positions for which the duties include tasks and procedures identified as having occupational exposure. The ECP must also address implementation and evaluation of proper engineering and work practice controls, personal protective equipment and employee training, among other things. Additionally, section (c)(1)(iv) of the standard requires the employer to review and update the plan at least annually to reflect changes in technology.

  1. Is capping free flowing fluids in suction canisters and placing them in red bag trash an acceptable practice under the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard?

Paragraph (d)(4)(iii)(B) of the standard addresses regulated waste containers for waste other than sharps. It states: "Regulated waste shall be placed in containers which are: (i) Closable; (ii) Constructed to contain all contents and prevent leakage of fluids during handling, storage, transport or shipping; (iii) Labeled or color-coded in accordance with paragraph (g)(1)(i) of this standard; and (iv) Closed prior to removal to prevent spillage or protrusion of contents during handling, storage, transport, or shipping. " As indicated by the standard, capped suction canisters must meet these criteria to be considered an appropriate container for regulated waste disposal. If these canisters are contaminated on the outside with blood or OPIM, they must be placed in a secondary container which meets the same requirements, in accordance with paragraph (d)(4)(iii)(B)(2) of the standard. State, territorial, and local agencies may have additional requirements regarding disposal of such materials. Paragraph (d)(4)(iii)(C) mandates compliance with these requirements.

Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. We hope you find this information helpful. Please be aware that the enforcement guidance contained in this response represents the views of OSHA at the time the letter was written based on the facts of an individual case, question, or scenario and is subject to periodic review and clarification, amplification, or correction. It could also be affected by subsequent rulemaking; past interpretations may not longer be applicable. In the future, should you wish to verify that the guidance provided herein remains current, you may consult OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Office of Health Compliance Assistance at (202) 693-2190.


Richard E. Fairfax, Director
Directorate of Compliance Programs