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.

Nov 5, 2014

Mr. David L. Smith
Constangy Brooks & Smith, LLP
230 Peachtree St, NW
Atlanta, Georgia 30303-1557

Dear Mr. Smith:

Thank you for your June 25, 2014, letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Directorate of Enforcement Programs regarding the requirements of the Chromium (VI) standard, 29 CFR 1910.1026. This reply letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation only of the requirements discussed and may not be applicable to any question not detailed in your original correspondence. Your paraphrased questions and our replies are below.

Question 1: Is an employer at a workplace with occupational exposure to hexavalent chromium, also known as Cr(VI), required to perform dust wipe sampling to prove that surfaces of eating and drinking areas are free of Cr(VI)?

Reply: No. OSHA's Chromium (VI) standard, 29 CFR 1910.1026, at paragraph (i)(4)(i), provides that whenever an employer allows employees to consume food or drinks at a worksite where chromium (VI) is present, the employer must "ensure that eating and drinking areas and surfaces are maintained as free as practicable of chromium (VI)." [Emphasis added]1 To meet this requirement, the employer must institute hygiene practices, such as regular cleaning, for eating and drinking areas. An employer may collect dust wipe samples to evaluate the efficacy of its hygiene practices, but the standard does not require that wipe sampling be performed.

Question 2: We are aware that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recommends, with respect to housekeeping, an acceptable surface level for Cr(VI) dust of 7.5 micrograms per 100 square centimeters.2 Is this an acceptable level for OSHA compliance, or is the detection of any amount of Cr(VI) by a wipe sample in an eating or drinking area sufficient to constitute a violation of 29 CFR 1910.1026(i)(4)(i)?

Reply: OSHA will cite an employer for violating the hygiene provision at 29 CFR 1910.1026(i)(4)(i) only if there is evidence that the employer has not implemented feasible hygiene practices to maintain eating and drinking areas and surfaces as free as practicable of Cr(VI). OSHA's compliance directive, CPL 02-02-074, Inspection Procedures for the Chromium (VI) Standards, explains:

When a determination has been made that an employer could reduce Cr(VI) contamination of surfaces within eating and drinking areas, or could make another area that is not contaminated available for employee consumption of food and drink, the compliance officer shall collect wipe or bulk samples to provide evidence that the surface contamination is Cr(VI). The standards do not define the term, "as free as practicable," however, if a wipe sample confirms Cr(VI) surface contamination in an area used for eating and drinking, and the compliance officer determines that the employer has not taken practicable measures to make a clean area available for eating and drinking, the employer is not in compliance with this provision. (p. 45)

Thus, a violation of this particular hygiene provision in the Chromium (VI) standard is based on evidence that the employer has not implemented feasible or practicable hygiene practices. OSHA's collection of a dust wipe to confirm Cr(VI) contamination during an inspection serves only to establish that the Chromium (VI) standard applies.

The requirement for employers to maintain surfaces and areas "as free as practicable" of Cr(VI) is performance-oriented. OSHA does not look for a threshold amount of Cr(VI) on a dust wipe sample to determine if a hygiene violation exists. While employers may consider the DOE's recommended acceptable level when evaluating the efficacy of its hygiene practices, a dust wipe sample showing an amount of Cr(VI) above or below the DOE acceptable level is not determinative for OSHA citation purposes. For additional information, see: OSHA Letter of Interpretation to Dee Woodhull, July 18, 2003, concerning wipe sampling of MDA; and OSHA Letter of Interpretation to Wayne Curtis, March 2, 2010, concerning storage of lunches in an automotive repair shop.

Question 3: Are all surfaces in an eating/drinking area covered by the requirement in 29 CFR 1910.1026(i)(4)(i), or just the surfaces of tables or counters at which the employees actually prepare and consume food and beverages?

Reply: The hygiene provision for eating and drinking areas in 29 CFR 1910.1026(i)(4)(i) applies to areas and surfaces where employees consume food or beverages. This is not necessarily limited to surfaces of tables or counters where food or drinks may be consumed. Cr(VI) contamination that is initially deposited on another surface, such as a floor, could later contaminate a surface where food or drinks are placed. For example, if a worker places drinks on the floor while stocking a refrigerator, he or she could inadvertently transfer Cr(VI) contamination from the floor into the refrigerator.

Question 4: Would wiping down surfaces in eating and drinking areas three times a day with a combination of Simple Green® all-purpose cleaner and bleach be sufficient to comply with 29 CFR 1910.1026(i)(4)(i) in the absence of any signs or symptoms of employee overexposure?

Reply: Employers must evaluate the specific hazards in their workplaces to determine the frequency and type of cleaning required to maintain eating and drinking areas and surfaces as free as practicable of Cr(V) contamination. The hazard determination should consider factors such as the types of contaminants in the workplace, the amount of contamination present, the toxicity of the contaminants, the distance between the eating/drinking areas and work areas, the frequency with which employees use the eating and drinking areas, the ventilation system(s) running in the facility, and the effectiveness of the specific cleaning product(s) and methods used.

OSHA also recommends that employers refer to industry guidelines, where available, or other recognized resources for information about best hygiene practices for toxic dusts in the workplace.3 Employers can use a variety of tools to evaluate the effectiveness of their hygiene practices, for example, visual inspections, colorimetric testing, or dust wipe sampling evaluated against recommended acceptable levels (see response to question #2, above) or against background levels in areas that are not expected to contain Cr(VI) dust.4

We applaud your client's efforts to ensure worker safety and thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. We hope you find this information helpful. OSHA's requirements are set by statute, standards, and regulations. Our letters of interpretation do not create new or additional requirements but rather explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. From time to time, letters are affected when the Agency updates a standard, a legal decision impacts a standard, or changes in technology affect the interpretation. To assure that you are using the correct information and guidance, please consult OSHA's website at www.osha.gov. If you have further questions, please feel free to contact the Office of Health Enforcement at (202) 693-2190.


Thomas Galassi, Director
Directorate of Enforcement Programs

1 As you may know, the primary health hazards from workplace exposure to chromium (VI) are lung cancer, asthma, and damage to the nasal epithelia and skin.

2 U.S. DOE, Brookhaven National Laboratory's Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) No. IH75190, Surface Wipe Sampling Procedure*, March 4, 2014.

3 For example, with respect to eating areas in workplaces containing lead, OSHA has previously recommended employers follow the hygiene practices described in guidance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). See Guidelines for the Evaluation and Control of Lead-Based Paint Hazards in Housing (2012).

4 A direct-read wipe for real-time detection or screening of surface chemicals can be useful in identifying areas with Cr(VI) contamination and the amount of Cr(VI) in those areas. A few manufacturers have developed these wipes for on-the-spot detection of dozens of chemicals, including Cr(VI), beryllium, cadmium, lead, and mercury.

* Accessibility Assistance: Contact the OSHA Directorate of Enforcement Programs at (202) 693-2129 for assistance accessing PDF, DOC and ZIP materials.