October 15, 2013 | | Comments 2
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Uniformly clean

Reaching in once again to the viewer mailbag, we find a question regarding the laundering of staff uniforms. In this particular instance, this organization is moving from a business casual dress code for medical staff to providing scrubs (three sets each) to promote uniformity of attire (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun). Now that the decision has been announced, there’s been a little pushback from the soon-to-be scrub-wearing folks as to whether the organization has to launder the scrubs if they become contaminated with blood or OPIM (the plan is for folks to take care of their own laundering).

So, in digging around a bit I found an OSHA interpretation letter that covers the question regarding the laundering of uniforms is raised and includes the following response:

Question 6: Is it permissible for employees to launder personal protective equipment like scrubs or other clothing worn next to the skin at home?

Reply 6: In your inquiry, you correctly note that it is unacceptable for contaminated PPE to be laundered at home by employees. However employees’ uniforms or scrubs which are usually worn in a manner similar to street clothes are generally not intended to be PPE and are, therefore, not expected to be contaminated with blood or OPIM. These would not need to be handled in the same manner as contaminated laundry or contaminated PPE unless the uniforms or scrubs have not been properly protected and become contaminated.

To my way of thinking, if the scrubs were to become contaminated, which would appear to be the result of the scrubs not having been properly protected (I’m reading that as “not wearing appropriate PPE), then the tacit expectation is that they would be handled in the same manner as contaminated laundry or contaminated PPE and since it is inappropriate for PPE to be laundered at home, then provisions would need to be made for the laundering of contaminated scrubs/uniforms. Now, you could certainly put in place safeguards, including the potential for corrective actions, if you have a “run” on folks getting their uniforms contaminated. It’s certainly possible that, from time to time, a uniform might become contaminated, but the proper use of PPE should keep that to a minimum.

How are folks out there in radio land managing scrubs that are used as uniforms (as opposed to being used as PPE)? Are you letting folks take care of their own garments or doing something that’s a little more involved? Always happy to hear what’s going on out there in the field.

And if I can take a moment of your time, I’d like to take this opportunity to remember my late colleague David LaHoda. This is the type of question he loved to answer and I loved helping him help folks out there in the great big world of safety. David, you are missed, my friend!

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Filed Under: CDC/infection controlOSHA

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Steve MacArthur About the Author: Steve MacArthur is a safety consultant with The Greeley Company in Danvers, Mass. He brings more than 30 years of healthcare management and consulting experience to his work with hospitals, physician offices, and ambulatory care facilities across the country. He is the author of HCPro's Hospital Safety Director's Handbook and is contributing editor for Briefings on Hospital Safety. Contact Steve at stevemacsafetyspace@gmail.com.

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  1. We have the same situation here at our office. Scrubs are the required uniform, but all employees are trained that they are NOT considered to be PPE and that if splashing or spraying of blood or OPIM is anticipated, then PPE is required: goggles, mask, gloves, AND a disposable jacket/gown to protect their scrubs. That being said, occasionally, a set of scrubs will become contaminated. They must be de-contaminated before being taken home for laundering. All employees are encouraged to have an extra set of scrubs on hand in their lockers at all times, and one set of extra scrubs is owned by the practice, for changing into while the contaminated set is being disinfected in a bucket of 1:10 bleach:water solution. Yes, it fades the color so we recommend that both top and bottom be soaked together so they fade evenly. Once decontaminated, the scrubs can be laundered and re-worn.

  2. The challenge to this notion, from the perspective of a large organization that outsources our laundry service, is that we have no way of tracking personally-owned clothing.

    OSHA does not explicitly requires this in any published letter of interpretation. Both OSHA and CDC have laundering guidelines (temperature, duration, soap), and we have incorparated that into our policies.

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