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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.
January 11, 2011
Mr. Carson R. Linker
9515 N.E. 312th Ave.
Camas, WA 98607
Dear Mr. Linker:
Thank you for your September 10, 2010, letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Your letter has been referred to the Directorate of Enforcement Programs for a response to your questions regarding the potential exposure to bloodborne pathogens associated with the handling of deployed stun gun darts. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation only of the requirements herein, and may not be applicable to any situation not delineated within your original correspondence.
Question 1: You state that you are a professional firefighter/paramedic for a large metropolitan fire department in Oregon. The users of stun guns and those responsible for removing, handling and housing the deployed darts, such as police officers and medical personnel, need clarification regarding occupational exposure to the contaminated darts. Can OSHA recognize the issue by directly referencing stun gun darts in its literature and/or standards?
Reply 1: As a preliminary matter, you should be aware that Federal OSHA does not cover employees of state and local governments, such as police officers and firefighters. 29 USC 652(5). However, you should be aware that 27 states, including Oregon, administer their own OSHA-approved occupational safety and health programs, or state plans. All state plans are required to cover public-sector (state and local government) employees, 29 USC 667(c)(6), and 22 also cover the private sector. These state plans must adopt and enforce standards which are at least as effective as those promulgated by Federal OSHA. Oregon has adopted the Federal OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Standard. For more information about Oregon's enforcement program, you may want to contact Michael Wood, Administrator, Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division, Department of Consumer and Business Services, Salem Central Office, P.O. Box 14480, 350 Winter St. NE, Rm. 430, Salem, Ore. 97309-0405, PH: (503) 378-3272, Fax: (503) 947-7461, Toll free: 1- 800-922-2689, Website: www.orosha.org.
OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, 29 CFR 1910.1030, is applicable to all occupational exposure to blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM) [§1910.1030(a)]. The standard defines "occupational exposure" 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." §1910.1030(b). Paragraph (b) of the standard defines "contaminated sharps" to mean any contaminated object that can penetrate the skin including, but not limited to, needles, scalpels, broken glass, broken capillary tubes, and exposed ends of dental wires. The term "contaminated" means "... the presence or the reasonably anticipated presence of blood or other potentially infectious materials on an item or surface." §1910.1030(b). Therefore, a deployed stun gun dart penetrating skin would be considered a contaminated sharp. As such, employees who remove or handle contaminated stun gun darts are potentially at risk of having an occupational exposure to blood or OPIM and would be covered by the scope of the Federal or state bloodborne pathogens standard, as the case may be. Because the OSHA definition of a contaminated sharp is very broad, there is no need to single out stun-gun darts in our literature and/or standards.
Question 2: What is the opinion of OSHA regarding the practice of forcing the contaminated stun gun darts back into the air cartridge from where they were shot and using this air cartridge as a sharps container?
Reply 2: In order to protect workers from sharps injuries while handling contaminated stun gun darts, employers must ensure that deployed darts that are contaminated with blood or OPIM are contained, stored, and transported as other contaminated sharps would be. Although OSHA does not require specific brands, styles, or size of disposal containers, containers that are used to collect contaminated sharps must meet the requirements set forth in 29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(4)(iii)(A)(1). Among other things, they must be "(i) Closable; (ii) Puncture resistant; (iii) Leakproof on sides and bottom; and, (iv) Labeled or color-coded in accordance with paragraph (g)(1)(i) of this standard." Employers must evaluate the air cartridges that house the stun gun darts to determine whether the cartridges meet these requirements.
Question 3: Does OSHA view the practice of forcing the contaminated stun gun darts back into a black air cartridge container from where they were projected as recapping?
Reply 3: OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogens Standard provides: " (A) Contaminated needles and other contaminated sharps shall not be bent, recapped, or removed unless the employer can demonstrate that no alternative is feasible or that such action is required by a specific medical or dental procedure." Placing a stun gun dart into the black air cartridge container from which it was projected is not recapping because the container is not a cap. However, placing the stun gun dart into a container which does not meet the requirements for sharps containers would violate §1910.1030(d)(4)(iii)(A)(1), which requires contaminated sharps to be discarded in containers described in the reply to question # 2.
Question 4: Can OSHA provide a succinct description and definition of what would constitute an acceptable, safe and compliant sharps evidence container?
Reply 4: Please see the reply to question # 2.
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 continue to 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.
Thomas Galassi, Director
Directorate of Enforcement Programs