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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.
July 20, 2005
James W. Banford, Jr.
International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Local Lodge No. 13
2300 New Falls Road
Newportville, PA 19056
Re: The requirements for washing facilities on construction jobsites under 29 CFR 1926.51(f)(1)
Dear Mr. Banford:
This is in response to your letter dated February 1, 2005, to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regarding the requirements under §1926.51(f)(1). Unfortunately, we did not receive your letter until April 4, 2005; we apologize for the delay in responding.
We have paraphrased your question as follows:
Question: Does 29 CFR 1926.51(f)(1) require construction employers to provide potable water and hand soap? Would it be sufficient instead to provide "a couple of rags and a can of waterless hand cleaner"?
Answer: Title 29 CFR 1926.51(f)(1) states:
(f) Washing facilities. (1) The employer shall provide adequate washing facilities for employees engaged in the application of paints, coating, herbicides, or insecticides, or in other operations where contaminants may be harmful to the employees. Such facilities shall be in near proximity to the worksite and shall be so equipped as to enable employees to remove such substances.
First, it is unclear from your letter whether the employees in the scenario you have in mind are engaged in the application of paints, coating, herbicides, or insecticides, or in other operations where contaminants may be harmful to the employees. Note that the requirements of this provision only apply where the employees are engaged in such activities.1
If employees are engaged in such activities, the employer must provide adequate washing facilities. Although the standard does not define "adequate", it does state that "such facilities…shall be so equipped as to enable employees to remove" the harmful contaminants. Therefore, whether "a couple of rags and a can of waterless hand cleaner" could meet the requirements of §1926.51(f)(1) depends upon whether they would "enable employees to remove such substances."
Typically, the employer's provision of waterless hand cleaner and towels/rags would not be sufficient to remove the harmful contaminants. In the past, OSHA has examined the data related to whether moist towelettes or other waterless hand cleaners were sufficient for removing harmful contaminants and determined that these cleaners were not adequate substitutes for soap and water.
In 1987, OSHA published a Final Rule for Field Sanitation, 29 CFR1928.110. 2 Among other things, it requires that all employers of 11 or more hand laborers in the field provide adequate hand washing facilities, including potable water, soap, and single-use towels. OSHA based the determination that the waterless cleaners were not adequate substitutes primarily on the expert testimony of a number of health professionals. Some health professionals commented that packaged moist towelettes, as opposed to soap and water, do not prevent the spread of harmful bacteria, communicable disease, or pesticide poisoning. 3 In fact, some health experts testified that moist towelettes would increase the risk of infection, especially from pesticides.4 Lastly, health professionals testified that the availability of potable water on jobsites was important for treating or flushing eye or skin injuries where there is contact with pesticides or other hazardous contaminants.5
OSHA then concluded that:
On the basis of all evidence in the record, OSHA has decided to require handwashing facilities, as proposed. The Agency believes the evidence from health professionals is conclusive. The use of soap and water effectively reduces multiple hazards, while the use of soap-and-water substitutes could increase them.6
Although §1928.110 is not applicable to your scenario, the rulemaking record for that standard indicates that "washing facilities" that are needed to remove paints, coating, herbicides, insecticides, or other contaminants that may be harmful to construction employees would not be "adequate" unless they included soap and potable water.
If you need additional information, please contact us by fax at: U.S. Department of Labor, OSHA, Directorate of Construction, Office of Construction Standards and Guidance, fax # 202-693-1689. You can also contact us by mail at the above office, Room N3468, 200 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20210, although there will be a delay in our receiving correspondence by mail.
Russell B. Swanson, Director
Directorate of Construction
1 29 CFR 1926.51(f)(3) requires employers to provide lavatories with running water. However, because of the provision's derivation, the requirement applies only to permanent places of employment. Construction sites typically are not permanent places of employment for employees engaged in construction work. [ back to text ]