What You Need to Know About OSHA Bloodborne Pathogen Laws

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the U.S Department of Labor has important regulations regarding occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens. They apply to all occupational exposure to blood and other potentially infectious materials.

Bloodborne pathogens are disease-causing microorganisms that spread through exposure to blood and other body fluids (with the exception of sweat). Pathogens like HIV and the hepatitis B virus (HBV) lead to chronic, incurable and even fatal disease. OSHA’s guidelines reduce the risks of exposure to bloodborne pathogens.


OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens Standard applies to workplaces in which there is occupational exposure to blood and other potentially infectious materials.

These workplaces include hospitals, medical and dental clinics, and other workplaces that contract with medical facilities like laboratories, emergency first responders, laundry facilities and waste disposal facilities.


Some important definitions for better understanding of OSHA guidelines:

Blood – human blood or its components, and products made from it.

Bloodborne pathogens – microorganisms present in human blood that cause disease. These microorganisms include hepatitis B virus and HIV, among other illnesses.

Contaminated – a surface with the presence of blood, a suspected presence or anticipated potential presence is considered contaminated.

Contaminated sharps – these include objects that can penetrate the skin, including needles, scalpels, broken glass, broken capillary tubes and exposed ends of contaminated dental wires.

Controls – refers to controls to isolate or remove bloodborne pathogens from the workplace. Some examples include needleless systems, sharps disposal containers and self-sheathing needles, as well as sharps with engineered injury protections. 

Decontamination – the use of physical or chemical means to remove, inactivate or destroy bloodborne pathogens on a surface or an item, to the point that it no longer poses a risk of transmitting infectious diseases. The surface or item is rendered clean and safe for handling, use or disposal.

Director – the director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or a designated representative.

Exposure incident – any event in which blood or other infectious material comes in contact with the eye, mouth or wounded skin, or is introduced inside the body through injection or puncture during performance of duties.

Hand washing facilities – these facilities must have running water, soap and single-use towels or air-dry machines.

Needleless system – defined here as a device that does not use needles for: collection of blood and body fluids in the artery or vein, administration of medicines or intravenous fluids, or procedures that have potential for occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens due to injuries from contaminated sharps.

Occupational exposure – exposure to blood and other potentially infectious material through the eyes, skin or mucous membranes, or exposure that is reasonably anticipated during performance of employee duties.

Other potentially infectious materials – human body fluids, unfixed tissue or organs from living or dead humans, HIV and hepatitis B virus-containing cells, tissue cultures and solutions.

  • Human body fluids include: semen, vaginal secretions, cerebrospinal fluid, synovial fluid, pleural fluid, pericardial fluid, peritoneal fluid, amniotic fluid, saliva in dental procedures, any body fluid that is visibly contaminated with blood, and all bodily fluids in situations where it is difficult or impossible to differentiate between body fluids.

Production facility – refers to a facility engaged in industrial-scale, large-volume or high concentration production of HIV or HBV.

Regulated waste – refers to liquid or semi-liquid blood and potentially infectious materials, or other items including it. This includes contaminated sharps, items with caked blood, items capable of releasing blood (in liquid or semi-liquid state) if compressed, and pathological and microbiological wastes with blood or other potentially infectious materials.

Research laboratory – refers to laboratories producing or using HIV or HBV for research purposes. These laboratories may produce high concentrations of HIV and HBV, but not at the level of volume in production facilities.

Source individual – any person, living or dead, whose blood and other potentially infectious materials may be a source of occupational exposure to an employee. Source individuals include patients in clinics and hospitals, developmentally disabled persons in institutions, victims of trauma, persons in drug or alcohol treatment clinics, and patients in hospices or nursing homes. It also includes human remains and persons donating blood and blood components.

Work practice controls – measures and actions meant to reduce the likelihood of exposure to bloodborne pathogens. A good example is the use of the one-handed technique for recapping syringe needles.