OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens Clarifications

Since the promulgation of the Bloodborne Pathogens standard, OSHA has issued a number of clarifications and interpretations regarding particular aspects of the standard. Summaries of several clarifications follow.

Construction, maritime and agriculture exemptions

Revision 10/02 The Bloodborne Pathogens standard does not apply to the construction, agriculture, marine terminal, and longshoring industries. OSHA has not, however, stated that these industries are free from the hazards of bloodborne pathogens. For industries not covered by the standard, these safety issues are being enforced under the General Duty Clause. While the General Duty Clause is not used to cite for violations of the Bloodborne Pathogens standard, it may be used to cite for failure to provide a workplace free from exposure to bloodborne hazards.

First aid providers and the hepatitis B vaccination requirement

First aid providers fall in a category of worker that is protected by the Bloodborne Pathogens standard because of the possibility of occupational exposure to blood or other potentially infectious material. However, most first aid providers have completely unrelated job duties and have very little actual likelihood of occupational exposure.

For those first aid providers where the risk of occupational exposure is extremely low, OSHA has issued an official exemption from the pre-exposure hepatitis B vaccination requirement. Such employees only need to be offered the HBV vaccine in post-exposure situations.

All other requirements of the standard still apply to workers exempted from the HBV vaccination requirements. Their employers are subject to the same written program, recordkeeping, training, and other requirements of the Bloodborne Pathogens standard. See page 29 for the news release regarding this exemption.

Feminine hygiene products handling practices

In response to an industry inquiry regarding feminine hygiene product waste, OSHA issued a letter clarifying the intent of the standard. The information in the letter could prove useful to every workplace, since all female restrooms generate feminine hygiene waste handling and disposal issues. This interpretation provides a strong incentive to organize an effective sanitary program to deal with the feminine hygiene product disposal practices, change them if possible to avoid potential exposure situations, and cover any workers potentially exposed to bloodborne pathogens. See page 30 for the interpretative letter.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration News Release

Monday, July 6, 1992


The U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) today announced it will allow employers to offer hepatitis B vaccinations to certain employees after they’ve given first aid rather than offering pre-exposure vaccinations.

Based on the low risk of exposure for these first aid providers, OSHA believes that post-exposure prophylaxis, including hepatitis B vaccination within 24 hours of possible exposure, both minimizes the risk to employees and lessens demands on limited supplies of the vaccine.

OSHA is revising the inspection directive issued under its bloodborne pathogens standard. OSHA will consider it a de minimis violation—a technical violation carrying no penalties—if employees who administer first aid as a collateral duty to their routine work assignment are not offered the hepatitis B vaccination until they give aid involving blood or other potentially infectious materials. In these circumstances, no citations will be issued.

All other requirements of the standard apply to employers with employees who are designated to render first aid on the job.

The de minimis classification for failure to offer hepatitis B vaccination in advance of exposure would NOT apply to personnel who provide first aid at a first aid station, clinic or dispensary or the health care, emergency response or public safety personnel expected to render first aid in the course of their work.

Exceptions would be limited to persons who render first aid only as a collateral duty, responding solely to injuries resulting from workplace incidents, generally at the location where the incident occurred. To merit the de minimis classification, the following conditions also must be met:

  • Reporting procedures must be in place under the exposure control plan to ensure that all first aid incidents involving exposure are reported to the employer before the end of the work shift during which the incident occurs.

  • Reports of first aid incidents must include the names of all first aid providers and a description of the circumstances of the accident, including date and time as well as a determination of whether an exposure incident, as defined in the standard, has occured.

  • Exposure reports must be included on a list of such first aid incidents that is readily available to all employees and provided to OSHA upon request.

  • First aid providers must receive training under the bloodborne pathogens standard that covers the specifics of the reporting procedures.

  • All first aid providers who render assistance in any situation involving the presence of blood or other potentially infection materials, regardless of whether or not a specific exposure incident occurs, must be offered the full immunization series—as soon as possible, but in no event later than 24 hours. If an exposure incident as defined in the standard has taken place, other post-exposure follow-up procedures must be initiated immediately, per the requirements of the standard.

    The new policy is effective immediately.

June 1, 1992

Ms. Susan H. Blackburn
Industrial Hygienist
Martin Marietta Energy Systems, Inc.
Post Office Box 2003
Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37831

Dear Ms. Blackburn:

This is in response to your letter of April 30, in which you requested a clarification on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulation 29 CFR 1910.1030, “Occupational Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens”. You wrote regarding the coverage of feminine hygiene products as regulated waste.

29 CFR 1910.1030 defines regulated waste as liquid or semi-liquid blood or other potentially infectious material (OPIM); items contaminated with blood or OPIM and which would release these substances in a liquid or semi-liquid state if compressed; items that are caked with dried blood or OPIM are capable of releasing these materials during handling; contaminated sharps; and pathological and microbiological wastes containing blood or OPIM.

OSHA does not generally consider discarded feminine hygiene products, used to absorb menstrual flow, to fall within the definition of regulated waste. The intended function of products such as sanitary napkins is to absorb and contain blood; the absorbent material of which they are composed would, under most circumstances, prevent the release of liquid or semi-liquid blood or the flaking off of dried blood.

OSHA expects these products to be discarded into waste containers which are lined in such a way as to prevent contact with the contents. Please note, however, that it is the employer’s responsibility to determine which job classifications or specific tasks and procedures involve occupational exposure. For example, the employer must determine whether employees can come into contact with blood during the normal handling of such products from initial pick-up through disposal in the outgoing trash. If OSHA determines, on a case-by-case basis, that sufficient evidence exists of reasonably anticipated exposure, the employer will be held responsible for providing the protections of 29 CFR 1910.1030 to the employees with occupational exposure.

We hope this information is responsive to your concerns. Thank you for your interest in worker safety and health.

Patricia K. Clark, Director
Directorate of Compliance Programs

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