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.

December 19, 2011
SUBJECT: Removal of Contaminated Needles Prior to Disposal

This is in response to your Regional Office's request for clarification on the Agency's enforcement policy concerning the practice of uncapping used/contaminated needles prior to disposal. In the situation you presented, it was asked whether the Bloodborne Pathogens standard (29 CFR 1910.1030) permitted employers (e.g., medical and/or dental practitioners) to remove contaminated needles from caps/sheaths before disposing of the needles following medical or dental procedures.

As you are aware, the standard strictly prohibits bending, recapping, or removal of contaminated sharps unless the employer can demonstrate that no alternative is feasible or that such action is required by a specific medical or dental procedure. [29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(2)(vii)(A)] The scenario you described clearly does not meet either of these exceptions. In the case of the first exception (i.e., one in which there is no feasible alternative), the obvious alternative is that the needle with the cap attached can be placed directly into the sharps container. In the case of the second (i.e., one in which there is a medical or dental need for the removal of the needle), it is evident that at the point of disposal, the medical or dental procedure has already been completed and thus the prohibited activity is not medically necessary. This activity is one which requires additional manual manipulation, which unnecessarily exposed employees to a greater risk of injury and would NOT be permitted under this provision of the Bloodborne Pathogens standard.