- 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 https://www.osha.gov.
February 11, 2015
Mr. Michael J. Harney, Jr.
Western North Carolina AIDS Project
554 Fairview Road
Asheville, North Carolina 28803
Dear Mr. Harney:
Thank you for your September 10, 2014, letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Your letter has been referred to the Directorate of Enforcement Programs for an answer to your specific question. You requested information about possible cases of hepatitis resulting from needlesticks from textile mill equipment. This letter constitutes OSHA's answer to your question and provides an interpretation of the coverage of OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogens (BBP) standard, 29 CFR 1910.1030, and may not be applicable to any other question not delineated within your original correspondence. Your question has been paraphrased, followed by OSHA's response.
Background: You identified a situation where an employee in a textile mill/factory reported daily needlesticks to fingers while operating the equipment. The needles on the machines are reported to be infrequently changed and the equipment is utilized by shift workers.
Question: Have there been any case reports or data related to being infected with hepatitis - in particular - from the equipment being operated and shared with others?
Response: OSHA is unaware of any case reports or data that specifically connect hepatitis infections to employees operating textile equipment. However, the underlying basis of the BBP standard is that all blood and certain body fluids are potentially infectious. [56 FR 64004, 64089 (December 6, 1991)] Thus, the standard applies to "...all occupational exposure to blood or other potentially infectious materials as defined by paragraph (b) of this section." [29 CFR 1910.1030(a)] "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." [29 CFR 1910.1030(b)] If employees are reasonably expected to get needlesticks from textile equipment contaminated with the blood of others, there is occupational exposure within the meaning of the standard. Employers would thus be required to protect those employees under the provisions of the standard, including, but not limited to, requirements to provide free hepatitis B vaccinations to employees with occupational exposure (paragraph (f)(2)); post-exposure (such as a needlestick) evaluation, follow-up, and post-exposure prophylaxis (where appropriate) (paragraph (f)(3)); and training (paragraph (g)(2)).
In an OSHA memorandum dated August 12, 1994 (see enclosed copy), a similar situation in the garment industry was identified. There, employees sharing label tagging devices were subjected to frequent needlesticks. The issue of concern relating to the BBP standard is that these label tagging devices can retain blood on the needles and on the tool. When the label tagging devices are exchanged between employees, e.g., during shift changes, the result is a potential transmission of bloodborne pathogens.
North Carolina operates its own occupational safety and health program under a plan approved and monitored by OSHA. The North Carolina Department of Labor (NCDOL) adopts and enforces standards and investigates safety and health concerns in workplaces throughout the state, and has jurisdiction over worker safety and health in the state. State plans are required to have standards and enforcement programs that are at least as effective as OSHA's, but may have different or additional requirements. The NCDOL bloodborne pathogens standard for general industry is the same as OSHA's and must be enforced at least as effectively as OSHA enforces the BPS. For specific information regarding North Carolina's requirements for bloodborne pathogens, you may contact North Carolina DOL directly at the following address:
North Carolina Department of Labor
Occupational Safety and Health Division
111 Hillsborough Street
Raleigh, NC 27601-1092
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 letter of interpretation explains 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 Office of Health Enforcement at 202-693-2190.
Thomas Galassi, Director
Directorate of Enforcement Programs