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Ask the expert: A doctor’s note won’t bypass OSHA compliance

Q: We are not allowed to drink beverages at the front desk to our dental practice because of OSHA’s rule about blood exposure. But some of us need to drink water frequently because of medical conditions. Can a doctor’s note get this OSHA rule changed for us?

A: Getting a note from your doctor to ignore Bloodborne Pathogens standard enforcement won’t help. It would be equivalent to having a note saying you don’t have to use safety needles or gloves when exposures are anticipated. Save the doctor’s note for mostly non-OSHA matters.

The first thing you need to ascertain is if the non-beverage policy at the front desk is indeed for OSHA reasons or is it an office/corporate policy for the sake of professional appearance. Often it is easier to blame OSHA as the boogeyman than to own up to the fact that a prohibition is due to internal policy. See “Ask the Expert—Don’t fall for all red flags.” [1]

If the beverage ban turns out not to be an OSHA policy, then that is a different matter for you to negotiate. Now is the time to whip out your doctor’s note and solve the problem as an internal or human resources policy.

If not allowing beverages at the front desk is truly due to interpreting the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens standard, check if you employer is interpreting the standard correctly.

Section(d)(2)(ix) of the standard states: “Eating, drinking, smoking, applying cosmetics or lip balm, and handling contact lenses are prohibited in work areas where there is a reasonable likelihood of occupational exposure.”

You could question the person who administers your OSHA compliance whether the front desk area is a likely exposure area, and if not, designate it as such.

An OSHA letter of interpretation [2] states: “The employer/practitioner is free to designate areas in which it is not reasonable to anticipate that occupational exposure will occur and to allow the consumption of food and beverage in those areas. OSHA will evaluate such designations on a case-by-case basis and anticipates that such areas will be separated from contaminated work areas.”

See “Ask the expert: Drinking on the job, sort of” for more information. [3]