Friday, September 25, 2015

Bloodborne Pathogens in Wastewater Treatment Plants

July 30, 2007

Ms. L***
San Juan, PR

Dear Ms. L***:

Thank you for your letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Your letter was forwarded to OSHA's Directorate of Enforcement Programs (DEP) for a response. You requested information regarding the application of OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, 29 CFR 1910.1030, to employees in wastewater treatment plants. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation only of the requirements discussed and may not be applicable to any question not delineated within your original correspondence. We apologize for the delay in responding to your letter.

Scenario: The Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority, PRASA, currently has a policy of offering hepatitis B vaccination to employees in its wastewater treatment plants. In a Health Hazard Analysis (HHE) conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), it was stated that "...exposure to wastewater or sewage has not been found to be a potential risk factor for hepatitis B infection." Based on this information, we are considering discontinuing the practice of offering hepatitis B vaccination to employees.

Question: Does the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, 29 CFR 1910.1030 apply to wastewater treatment plant employees?

Reply: As you may know, the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard is applicable to "...all occupational exposure to blood or other potentially infectious materials [OPIM] as defined by paragraph (b) ..." of the standard [29 CFR 1910.1030(a)]. As such, coverage of the standard is not triggered solely by the actual presence of pathogens, but by the presence or reasonably anticipated presence of blood or OPIM. Generally, raw sewage and wastewater do not contain blood. Urine, feces, and other reasonably anticipated biological components comprising human wastes in sewage are not included in the definition of "other potentially infectious materials" unless "...visibly contaminated with blood..." [29 CFR 1910.1030(b)]. Therefore, OSHA, while recognizing that contact with wastewater and raw sewage poses a number of health hazards, does not generally consider that contact with diluted raw sewage not originating directly from a health care facility or other source of bulk blood or OPIM is covered by the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard.

One of the central provisions of the standard is that employers are responsible for determining which job classifications or specific tasks and procedures are reasonably anticipated to result in worker contact with blood or OPIM [29 CFR 1910.1030(c)(2)]. Therefore, your organization is responsible for evaluating all job classifications and tasks to make a determination whether you, indeed, have employees assigned to routine or non-routine tasks which may involve reasonably anticipated exposure to blood or OPIM.

An example of occupational exposure that may occur among wastewater treatment employees is the rendering of first aid or medical services by staff members (e.g., employees working in a first aid station or health clinic). The provisions of 29 CFR 1910.1030(f) on hepatitis B vaccination would fully apply to these employees. Employees who are designated to render first aid as a collateral duty to their normal tasks would also be considered to have occupational exposure. However, they need only be offered the hepatitis B vaccination after rendering assistance in any situation involving blood or OPIM if the employer complies with the protocol set forth in XIII.F.8 (citation policy for first aid providers) of OSHA CPL 2-2.69 — Enforcement Procedures for the Occupational Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens (2001), available at OSHA's webstie. Another example of a job with occupational exposure is one involving potential contact with used hypodermic needles, such as cleaning out drains where the accumulation of used hypodermic syringes/needles is reasonably anticipated; the HBV vaccine provisions fully apply to these employees.

As you probably know, Puerto Rico has a state plan approved by Federal OSHA. It covers private-sector and public-sector employers [29 CFR 1952.380(a)]. Thus, you should contact the Puerto Rico Occupational Safety and Health Administration (PR OSHA), at

Department of Labor, 20th Floor
505 Muñoz Rivera Avenue,
Hato Rey, Puerto Rico 00918
Phone (787) 756-1100, 1106/ (787) 754-2172
Fax (787) 767-6051
PR OSHA standards are the same as those of Federal OSHA [29 CFR 1952.380(a)]. The agency must enforce its standards as effectively as Federal OSHA does [29 U.S.C. 667(c)(2)]. Thus, Federal OSHA's interpretation of the federal Bloodborne Pathogens Standard is relevant to your question, although the Commonwealth may have some different or additional interpretations, especially for the public sector.

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