- Standard Number:
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.
January 2, 2003
Benjamin H. Hoffman, M.D., M.P.H.
Waste Management, Inc.
1001 Fannin St.
Houston, TX 77002
Dear Dr. Hoffman:
Thank you for your August 26 letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) Directorate of Enforcement Programs. Your letter expresses concerns regarding the requirement under OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogens standard [29 CFR 1910.1030] to provide employees who have occupational exposure to blood and other potentially infectious materials with the hepatitis B virus (HBV) vaccination. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation only of the requirements discussed and may not be applicable to any situation not delineated within your original correspondence. Your question is outlined below followed by OSHA's response.
Scenario: It has been Waste Management's understanding that the pre-exposure hepatitis B virus (HBV) vaccination portion of the bloodborne pathogens standard is not applicable to the municipal solid waste industry because it does not have a reasonably anticipated exposure to blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM). Typically, if a location has had an unusually high number of needlesticks, we voluntarily offer to vaccinate employees on a pre-exposure basis.
Question: Is this interpretation of the requirement correct?
Response: Through multiple conversations with you and OSHA's New York Regional Office, we have verified that Waste Management supervisors are required to respond to situations where contaminated sharps/materials are found. Therefore, supervisors have reasonably anticipated exposure to blood and thus occupational exposure within the meaning of 29 CFR 1910.1030(b). The supervisors must be vaccinated within 10 working days of placement into a position that requires responding to areas where contaminated sharps are found. They must also be appropriately trained [29 CFR 1910.1030(f)].
According to your letter, "in locations where there are an unusually high number of needlesticks," you "voluntarily offer the pre-exposure vaccination." Please be aware that it is exposure to contaminated needles or other sharps that determines the applicability of the standard here, not the number of needlesticks or other exposure incidents. Once employees are determined to have occupational exposure, they are entitled to be offered the hepatitis B virus vaccination.
In any industry, certain job tasks or duties may have varying degrees of exposure potential. Applicability of the standard's requirements is not determined by industry, but by job description and workplace responsibility. For example, a typical solid waste hauler in a recycling center may not have reasonably anticipated exposure to blood or OPIM from needlesticks. However a supervisor or designated responder required to pick up a contaminated sharps found in a trash bag or on a conveyer belt would have reasonably anticipated exposure.
The bloodborne pathogens standard, including the requirement to offer the HBV vaccination series in accordance with the current U.S. Public Health Service Guidelines1, is applicable to all employees with occupational exposure to blood or OPIM. You must determine occupational exposure by performing an exposure assessment in order to identify those job tasks where occupational exposure to blood or OPIM may be reasonably anticipated [29 CFR 1910.1030(c)(2)]. All provisions of the standard would apply to these workers.
We appreciate your clarifying your position and discussing the possibility that OSHA would consider the failure of a municipal solid waste recycling center to offer the pre-exposure vaccination to employees to be de minimis. For the reasons and because of the severity of bloodborne diseases we have discussed, we have determined that failure to offer the pre-exposure HBV vaccination to those employees (e.g., supervisors, designated responders) responsible for responding to and appropriately discarding contaminated sharps may result in the issuance of a serious citation. Again, determining exposure should be done on a facility-by-facility, job-task-by-job-task basis, not generically across the industry.
We understand that a unique scenario may arise where it is difficult for trash haulers collecting municipal waste out in the field to call back to a home base to have a supervisor come out and respond to a sighting of a contaminated sharp. In that case, haulers in the field (permanent and temporary) must be offered the pre-exposure vaccination.
We hope you find this information helpful. 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. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Office of Health Enforcement at (202) 693-2190.
Richard E. Fairfax, Director
Directorate of Enforcement Programs
1 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), Updated U.S. Public Health Service Guidelines for the Management of Occupational Exposures to HBV, HCV, and HIV and Recommendations for Postexposure Prophylaxis. June 29, 2001, Vol. 50, No. RR-11. [Back to Text]