- 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 https://www.osha.gov.
January 29, 2008
Ms. Rosemary Kacoyannakis
7 St. James Circle
Hudson, MA 01749
Dear Ms. Kacoyannakis:
Thank you for your letter of October 6, 2007, to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regarding sanitation standards for washing facilities. Your letter addressed the benefits of using paper towels for hand drying instead of electric blow dryers. You asked that OSHA require the provision of paper towels in all public restrooms of large retail stores and grocery stores. You explained that such a measure would help protect and preserve the health of employees and the public and that a number of studies indicated that the benefits of such a measure were evident.
Please note that the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (the OSH Act) deals with the protection of employees, not the general public. The OSHA standard that applies to the particular condition addressed in your letter (specifically, §1910.141(d)(2)(iv), for general industry workplaces) states:
Individual hand towels or sections thereof, of cloth or paper, warm air blowers or clean individual sections of continuous cloth toweling, convenient to the lavatories, shall be provided.
As you may know, in general, OSHA standards set minimum safety and health requirements. However, they do not prohibit employers from adopting more stringent requirements. The OSHA standard in question, §1910.141(d)(2)(iv), allows employers a choice of methods to protect their employees. Thus, an employer's use of air blowers is in compliance with OSHA's standard.
You suggest that the OSHA standard be changed to allow only the use of paper towels. You should be aware that a change to an OSHA standard such as you requested can only be promulgated through notice and comment rule making pursuant to 29 USC §655(b). This rule making process deals with questions, such as whether a proposed change provides discernible health or safety benefits to employees and whether it would be technologically and economically feasible. In deciding whether to regulate health hazards, OSHA is specifically required to promulgate a standard "on the basis of the best available evidence." [29 USC §655(b)(5)]. We have considered the documents mentioned in your letter which support the exclusive use of paper towels for drying hands in restrooms. However, we have also considered scientific literature which finds that the use of electric blow dryers for this purpose is just as effective as or more effective than paper towels in removing pathogens. Gustafson DR, Vetter EA, Larson DR, Istrup DM, Maker MD, Thompson RL, Cockerill FR 3rd, Effects of 4 hand-drying methods for removing bacteria from washed hands: a randomized trial, Mayo Clin. Proc. 2000 Jul; 75(7):705-8 (data showed no statistically significant differences in efficiency of four hand drying methods for removing bacteria from washed hand, including paper towels and blow dryers); Yamamoto Y., Ugai K., Takahashi Y., Efficiency of hand drying for removing bacteria from washed hands: comparison of paper towel drying with warm air drying, Infect. Control. Hosp. Epidemiol., 2005 Mar; 26(3):316-20 (holding hands under warm air blow dryer and not rubbing them desirable for removing bacteria; ultraviolet light reinforced removal of bacteria during warm air drying; paper towels useful for removing bacteria from fingertips but not palms and fingers); Ansari SA, Springthorpe VS, Sattar SA, Tostowaryk W, Wells GA, Comparison of cloth, paper, and warm air drying in eliminating viruses and bacteria from washed hands, Am. J. Infect. Control, 1991 Oct; 19(5):243-9 (electric air drying produced lowest and cloth drying lowest reduction in numbers of rotaviruses and E. coli on hands; warm air may penetrate all skin crevices, but towels may not reach them, even though skin appears dryer). These references were found by searching http://www.nlm.nih.gov., sponsored by the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. In light of this evidence, the agency is not considering any action to change §1910.141(d)(2)(iv).
While we regret that could not be of assistance in this matter, we thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. 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 General Industry Enforcement at 202-693-1850.
Richard E. Fairfax, Director
Directorate of Enforcement Programs