The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is an agency of the United States Department of Labor. It was created by Congress under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. OSHA’s mission is to prevent work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths by issuing and enforcing rules (known as standards) for workplace safety and health. OSHA regulations cover most private sector workplaces, including hotels and motels. OSHA actively enforces these regulations. Violation of these regulations or a failure to cooperate with OSHA enforcement activities can result in serious ramifications for an offending workplace, including civil fines and criminal sanction.
OSHA standards are wide-ranging and contemplate the protection of workers operating in the myriad of industries extant in the United States. OSHA standard 29 C.F.R. 1910.1030, “Occupational Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens,” prescribes safeguards to protect workers against the health hazards from exposure to blood and other potentially infectious materials, and to reduce their risk from this exposure. All employees who could be reasonably anticipated as the result of performing their assigned job duties to face contact with blood or other infectious materials are covered by this standard. To that end, workplaces are compelled by this standard to safeguard their employees from such exposure via training and equipment facilitating proper precautions.
Hotel and motel workers are not medical doctors or other health professionals who work around blood and other infectious materials on a daily basis. However, many hotel and motel workers, such as housekeeping staff, come into contact with blood and other potentially infectious materials in the course of their jobs on a fairly routine basis. The question therefore presents itself: What is the applicability of OSHA regulation 29 C.F.R. 1910.1030 to the hotel/motel industry?
“Occupational exposure” is defined within the standard 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. The definition of “other potentially infectious materials” includes any body fluid that is visibly contaminated with blood. Urine, feces, sweat, tears, nasal secretions, and vomitus that are not visibly contaminated with blood are not considered to be “other potentially infectious materials.”
OSHA does not generally consider housekeeping staff in non-health care facilities to have “occupational exposure;” nevertheless, it is the employer’s responsibility to determine which job classifications or specific tasks and procedures involve reasonably anticipated contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials. Employers in the hotel/motel industry therefore must take into account all circumstances of potential exposure and determine which, if any, employees may come into contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials during the normal cleaning of rooms, stripping of beds, and handling of laundry from initial pick-up through laundering. Employees who handle - for example - linens soiled with urine that contains visible blood would be occupationally exposed. The employer may designate specific employees to perform the tasks and procedures, if any, that involve “occupational exposure” and train other employees to defer such tasks to employees designated to perform them.
For OSHA compliance purposes, if the agency determines, on a case-by-case basis, that sufficient evidence exists of reasonably anticipated “occupational exposure,” the employer will be held responsible for providing the protections of 29 C.F.R. 1910.1030 to those employees with occupational exposure.
Note: This information represents federal OSHA policy. States with state occupational safety and health programs may adopt standards which are more stringent than federal regulations.
Sources: 29 C.F.R. 1910.1030; “The hotel/motel industry and the bloodborne pathogens standard,” Occupational Safety and Health Administration official interpretation of 29 C.F.R. 1910.1030 (first issued January 26, 1993) (corrected/amended April 6, 2009), http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=INTERPRETATIONS&p_id=21002.
This article is intended to provide information on noteworthy legal issues and is not a substitute for legal advice.