Question of the Month Archives


January/February Question of the Month: Can vaccines and food be stored in the same refrigerator?

Answer: OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogens Standard prohibits storing food and drinks in a refrigerator that contains serum-based vaccines or blood. It is also remotely possible that non-serum based vaccines could contaminate employee food. 

Vaccine storage conditions must be strictly monitored, as vaccines are prone to lose their potency if temperatures are not accurately maintained. Most "break room" refrigerators are opened and closed frequently and are not equipped with monitoring systems to maintain a consistent temperature. Have a special refrigerator for vaccine storage and monitor the temperatrue daily.


March/April Question of the Month:  What types of OSHA records are necessary for healthcare employees?

Answer: Upon hire, document new empoyee OSHA orientation training and annual re-training for all employees subject to the Blooddborne Pathogens Standard and the Hazard Comminication Standard. Training records need to contain: the date. si,,aru of contents, name and qualification of trainer(s), and the nammes and job titles of trainees. maintain training records for three years.


May/June Question of the Month:  Besides Hepatitis B, what vaccines are employers required to provide to workers?

Answer: Although OSHA does not require employers to provide them, vaccines suggested by the US Public Health Service for healthcare workers are:


July/August Question of the Month: How long do we need to keep the monthly and annual facility checklists?

Answer: OSHA does not specify a length of time for keeping these records. We suggest keeping the Monthly Checklists for a year and the Annual Checklists for 3-5 years to demonstrate to an inspector that you are continually monitoring potential safety concerns in your practice.


September/October Question of the Month:  What needs to be in a first aid kit?

Answer: Although most medical workplaces have supplies to handle minor emergencies, OSHA requires a separate first aid kit for employee injuries:

            available, such as in a dentist's office)

Source: American National Standards Institute (ANSI)

(Editor's Note: Your workplace could have additional hazards that necessitate additional components).


November/December Question of the Month: Can sharps containers be mounted inside a cabinet door?

Answer:   No, since it's likely a worker could be injred when trying to maneuver a sharp object dripping with blood into a container inside of a closed cabinet.  Other unacceptable areas to place sharps containers include:

            dislodged by a person, moving equipment, wheelchairs or swinging doors.



Jan/Feb Question of the Month: "What factors in a medical workplace should most concern clinical staff who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant?"

Answer: More than 75% of women in the workforce are of reporductive age. Ninety-two percent of the 4.3 million nurses and nursing aides in the U.S. are female. Because of the high incidence of females in healthcare, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has prioritized the health and safety of healthcare workers of childbearing age.

The top factors that should concern female medical workers who are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant are:

Check Product Labels

Workers of reproductive age should be vigilant about checking al product labels of substances they work with. Labels are required by OSHA to list target organs that may be affected by exposure, as well as any symptoms of exposure. This "target organ" analysis includes information about the reproductive effects of labeled substances. The label also should include possible signs and symptoms of exposure, such as birth defects or sterility.

For more information about reproductive hazards for healthcare workers go to:


March/April Question of the Month: "What posters are required by Federal Law in an ambulatory medical practice?"

Answer: The only poster required by OSHA is the "It's The Law" poster (Form 3165), which is included in Quality America's OSHA Safety Porgram manual. Other non-OSHA posters that your practice should post are the EEOC notice, the minimum wage law and the Polygraph Law posters.  If your practice employs 50 or more employees, you also need to display the Family and Medical Leave Act poster. To determine exactly which posters are needed in a medical practice, visit the Department of Labor's poster advisor website at


May/June Question of the Month: "What's the difference between danger, caution and warning signs? When are these signs needed in the workplace?"

Answer: Signs and labels tell us where dangers lurk, and what's safe and what isn't. To recognize potentially hazardous situations, the type of sign is as important as the

words on it. The American National Standard Institute, or ANSI, determines the common vocabulary and visual cues for hazardous materials that are easy for everyone to recognize.

According to ANSI Standard Z535.2-1998, the following definitions for signal words and colors are used:

Printer Version


July/August Question of the Month: "Are employers required to perform a titer on an employee after vaccinating him or her for hepatitis B? If so, when? "

Answer: Yes, test for HbsAb within one to two months after the last dose of the 3-dose HBV vaccination. If the titer indicates that the employee is immune (<10 mIU/mL), give the series of 3 vaccines again, then re-titer. If the second titer indicates that the employee still has not attained immunity to HBV, do NOT repeat the vaccination series.  Instead, medically evaluate the employee.


Sept/Oct Question of the Month:  How many inches are allowed between supplies and ceilings in storage areas and closets?

Answer: If you have sprinklers in the area, maintain an 18-inch clearance between the stored items and sprinkler heads.  In areas without sprinklers, maintain a 24-inch clearance.  The exception to this rule is that if you have built-in shelves that reach up to the ceiling, you may store items up to the ceiling, unless there is a sprinkler head right above the shelves.


Nov/Dec Question of the Month:  How do we dispose of large quantities of suctioned patient body fluids?

We searched countless government sources to find out how to legally dispose of suction canister contents and came up with two viable options.  We also learned that most healthcare facilities simply flush them into the sanitary sewer, which by itself is an OSHA violation, since healthcare workers could be splashed with aerosolized infectious fluids.  Neither option is perfect, but...

Option 1: Use a product that solidifies the suction canister contents so that they can be disposed of with red-bagged waste.  The downsides to this approach are the high disposal cost of high-volume, heavy red-bag waste and eliminating the reuse of canisters.

Option 2: Wearing mask, gloves and gown, flush bulk-suctioned body fluids into the sanitary sewer, but check with your local wastewater treatment plant to see if there are quantity limitations.  Treat suctioned fluids with several ounces of household bleach for about 5 minutes before disposal to reduce their infectivity.  Rather than using the sink or toilet, have a "hopper" installed if your facility generates large quantities of these fluids. Never dispose of these fluids in handwashing sinks!