- 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.
February 27, 2009
Mr. Joseph Kaye
JK Solutions, Inc.
PO Box 907
East Longmeadow, MA 01028
Dear Mr. Kaye:
Thank you for your November 24, 2008 letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Your letter was forwarded to the Directorate of Enforcement Programs (DEP) in OSHA's National Office. You had several specific questions regarding compliance with the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, 29 CFR 1910.1030. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation only of the requirements discussed and may not be applicable to any question(s) or scenarios not delineated within your original correspondence. For clarification, your questions have been rephrased below followed by OSHA's responses. We apologize for any delay in responding to your inquiry.
Question 1: Do "universal precautions" apply to the activities of medical and dental facilities (e. g., the handling of masks, goggles, gloves, lab coats or other personal protective equipment (PPE))?
Reply 1: Yes. According to the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, "Universal precautions" is an approach to infection control. According to the concept of Universal Precautions, all human blood and certain human body fluids are treated as if known to be infectious for HIV, HBV, and other bloodborne pathogens." 29 CFR 1910.1030(b). 29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(1) requires that universal precautions be observed to prevent contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials. This would include the handling of PPE that has become contaminated with blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM) in medical and/or dental facilities.
Question 2: Would it be a violation of the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard if medical or dental facilities failed to adhere to universal precautions for the handling of blood, OPIM, or items, such as laundry contaminated with blood or OPIM?
Reply 2: Yes. Medical and dental facilities failing to adhere to universal precautions would be in violation of section 29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(1) unless the facility is observing a more stringent set of guidelines. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) Guideline for Isolation Precautions: Preventing Transmission of Infectious Agents in Healthcare Settings 2007: "Standard precautions combine the major features of Universal Precautions and Body Substance Isolation and are based on the principle that all blood, body fluids, secretions, excretions except sweat, nonintact skin, and mucous membranes may contain transmissible infectious agents. Standard Precautions include a group of infection prevention practices that apply to all patients, regardless of suspected or confirmed infection status, in any setting in which healthcare is delivered. . ."1 These include hand hygiene; use of gloves, gown, mask, eye protection, or face shield, depending on the anticipated exposure; and safe injection practices. Standard precautions are more stringent than universal precautions alone and would be acceptable.
Question 3: Would potential contact of textiles, such as linen or laundry, with unknown body fluids in medical or dental settings where universal precautions are practiced trigger coverage under OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogens Standard at that medical or dental facility? Also, would the contaminated textiles require special handling under the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard?
Reply 3: Pursuant to 29 CFR 1910.1030(a), the Bloodborne Pathogens standard is applicable to all occupational exposure to blood or other potentially infectious material (OPIM), as defined in 29 CFR 1910.1030(b). The definition of OPIM includes saliva in dental procedures, among other things. Occupational exposure is defined as "reasonably anticipated skin, eye, mucous membrane, or parenteral contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials that may result from the performance of an employee's duties." A determination of the duties, tasks, and scope of the employees' work must be done by the employer to assess whether employees have reasonably anticipated exposure to blood or OPIM [29 CFR 1910.1030(c)(2)]. Employers with employees who launder or otherwise handle linen contaminated with blood or OPIM (e.g., housekeeping staff in a healthcare setting; employees in a commercial laundry facility with a contract to launder contaminated linen from medical/dental settings) would be considered to have reasonably anticipated exposure and would be covered by the standard. Blood is often found on linen and laundry in medical facilities, and saliva is often found on such materials in dental offices. With respect to unknown fluids, 29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(1) provides in pertinent part: "Under circumstances in which differentiation between body fluid types is difficult or impossible, all body fluids shall be considered potentially infectious materials." The fact that the contaminated textiles are in a medical or dental facility where universal precautions are practiced would not preclude coverage under the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard.
With regard to the handling of contaminated laundry, 29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(4)(iv) sets forth the requirements for the handling and transport of laundry contaminated with blood or OPIM. For example, 1910.1030(d)(4)(iv)(A) and 1910.1030(d)(4)(iv)(A)(1) - 1910.1030(d)(4)(iv)(A)(3) cover the handling, containerization and transport of contaminated laundry, while sections 1910.1030(d)(4)(iv)(B) and 1910.1030(d)(4)(iv)(C) cover use of PPE while handling contaminated laundry and use of color-coded or labeled bags for transport to off-site facilities that do not use universal precautions in handling all laundry (e.g., transport to an off-site commercial laundry facility). Please refer to these sections of the standard for the specific requirements.
Question 4: Would an off-site facility (e.g., commercial laundry facility) which handles contaminated linen from healthcare settings be required to have a written exposure control plan?
Reply 4: Yes, as stated in the response to question #3, employers with employees who launder or otherwise handle linen contaminated with blood or OPIM (e.g., employees in a commercial laundry facility with a contract to launder contaminated linen from medical or dental settings) would be considered to have reasonably anticipated exposure to blood or OPIM and, thus, would be covered by the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard. Consequently, such employers are required to establish a written exposure control plan designed to eliminate or minimize employee exposure. 29 CFR 1910.1030(c)(1).
Question 5: Does an employer need to also ensure the proper laundering of contaminated linen?
Reply 5: The Bloodborne Pathogens Standard covers the handling and transport of contaminated laundry for the protection of employees; however, OSHA regulations do not have specific requirements for actual laundering procedures for assuring patient-specific infection control. OSHA's authority is limited to the protection of workers. As you noted in your inquiry, there are existing infection control guidelines set by the CDC. In the 2003 Guidelines for Environmental Infection Control in Health-Care Facilities, the CDC provides guidance for the handling, cleaning, and disinfection of contaminated laundry. The document can be found at http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owaredirect.html?p_url=http:/www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtm/rr5210a1.htm.
Question 6: Is it permissible for employees to launder personal protective equipment like scrubs or other clothing worn next to the skin at home?
Reply 6: In your inquiry, you correctly note that it is unacceptable for contaminated PPE to be laundered at home by employees. However employees' uniforms or scrubs which are usually worn in a manner similar to street clothes are generally not intended to be PPE and are, therefore, not expected to be contaminated with blood or OPIM. These would not need to be handled in the same manner as contaminated laundry or contaminated PPE unless the uniforms or scrubs have not been properly protected and become contaminated.
Question 7: Is an employer in a dental office responsible for implementing an exposure control plan at the establishment if that employer launders the contaminated linen or PPE onsite?
Reply 7: Yes. Again, please see the response to question #3 above. Also, please be aware that dental offices would have other reasonably anticipated exposure scenarios other than the laundering of contaminated PPE that would make it necessary to develop and implement an exposure control plan. The exposure control plan should cover all job classifications and tasks in which employees have occupational exposure.
Question 8: Is that same employer responsible for following the CDC guidelines for laundering contaminated laundry?
Reply 8: The CDC guidelines are not mandatory. They are recommendations written with the intent of enhancing infection control measures in all healthcare facilities, including dental settings.
Question 9: How would OSHA regard an employer in a dental office who does not adhere to the requirements of the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard (e.g., use of universal precautions and establishment of an exposure control plan) and who does not use proper procedures for laundering contaminated laundry?
Reply 9: Again, please see the response to question #3 above. All employers having employees with occupational exposure must comply with the requirements of the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard and would be considered noncompliant for failing to do so. Please see the response to question #8 above with regard to the use of proper procedures for laundering contaminated linen.
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 may 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 The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, Guideline for Isolation Precautions: "Preventing Transmission of Infectious Agents in Healthcare Settings 2007," p. 66. [ back to text ]