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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 https://www.osha.gov.
April 18, 2008
Ms. Patte Shambaugh
Pinnacle Health System Laboratory
101 South Second Street
Harrisburg, PA 17105
Dear Ms. Shambaugh:
Thank you for your letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) Directorate of Enforcement Programs (DEP). This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation only of the requirements discussed and may not be applicable to any question not delineated within your original correspondence. You had specific questions regarding the measures a laboratory must take to keep sharps containers in an upright position. We apologize for the delay in providing our response.
Question: In a laboratory where sharps containers are kept close to employees' workstations with lids and are positioned so that they are kept upright, is it necessary to have "mechanisms" to restrain the containers as a precaution from spillage?
Reply: As you may know, 29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(4)(iii)(A)(2)(ii), requires that during use, containers for contaminated sharps must be: "[m]aintained upright throughout use. . ." The use of mechanisms to restrain sharps containers is one way of preventing spillage during use; however, the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard does not specify the use of restraining mechanisms for all situations of sharps container use. For example, if a workplace assessment reveals that sharps containers can be maintained in an upright position during use with no danger of being knocked over or spilled, or that the containers must remain unrestrained to accommodate mobility needs, or employees or patients might be endangered by fixed sharps containers (e.g., in a mental health or correctional facility), the use of restraining mechanisms would not be mandatory. The placement of sharps containers, as well as the measures used to maintain them in an upright position during use, must be based on the site-specific hazard assessment of the area of intended use.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's (NIOSH's) document, Selecting, Evaluating, and Using Sharps Disposal Containers, makes recommendations on several important components of a site-specific hazard analysis in the selection of sharps containers. Among other things, NIOSH recommends that the employer consider: i) container transport or mobility needs; ii) clinician and procedural variability and movement; and iii) laboratory equipment variability and movement.1 If, after evaluating the work environment, an employer determines that restraining mechanisms are not required, but makes the decision to install them as an added measure to ensure the sharps containers are maintained upright, doing so should not, in itself, create an unsafe or unhealthful condition. [See 29 CFR 1910.1030(c); exposure control plan.]
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 OSHA Office of Health Enforcement at (202) 693-2190.
Richard E. Fairfax, Director
Directorate of Enforcement Programs
1 Selecting, Evaluating, and Using Sharps Containers, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Jan. 1998, p. 6. [ back to text ].