This document is also available in Tagalog.

Developed in cooperation with the Cal/OSHA Advisory Task Force on Multi-lingual Publications and Training. 1995


This guide is intended to acquaint employees such as housekeepers, janitors, park groundskeepers and people in similar jobs with an important Cal/OSHA regulation:
  • It is called the bloodborne pathogen standard.
  • It is about preventing on-the-job transmission of hepatitis-B and the HIV virus which causes AIDS.
Even though most people are at low risk of being exposed to these viruses at the workplace, it is better to be safe. NO RISK is better than LOW RISK. Both viruses can result in death to those who contract them.

If you are a laundry worker, plumber, janitor, housekeeper, nurse, dental assistant, park grounds-keeper, gardener, or a first aid giver such as a lifeguard or ambulance attendant, you and others in similar jobs may sometime come in contact with infectious materials that could threaten your health.

Things such as soiled sheets, towels, tissues, sanitary napkins, first aid equipment, and even medical/dental utensils, could be contaminated with blood or body fluids carrying viruses that cause AIDS, hepatitis, or other illnesses.

Exposure to infectious blood or body fluids that carry these viruses could put your health at risk if you don't know what to do.

Employers and employees in every kind of industry should learn to identify potentially infectious materials found at work and regard all blood and body fluids as potentially dangerous.

Although this guide does not contain everything you need to know about transmission of these viruses, it will give you answers to some common questions about the Cal/OSHA rules that apply to you and your job.

Questions & Answers

What could I catch if I came in contact with infected blood or body fluids?

  • The two most common diseases one could catch are AIDS and hepatitis-B.
  • Hepatitis-B is very bad for your liver, and it is a more common health risk on the job than AIDS.
  • There is a vaccination you can take to protect yourself from developing hepatitis-B. As yet, there is no vaccination or cure for AIDS.

How can I protect myself from these infections?
  • Though your chances of coming into contact with these diseases at your workplace are small, it is important to work in a way that reduces your chance of being infected.
  • You should treat all blood and body fluids, and any objects contaminated with them (like knives, needles, soiled sheets, towels), as potentially dangerous.
  • If you observe practices or things at work that may be potential problems, it would be wise to notify your employer immediately so that proper steps can be taken to prevent someone from becoming ill.

But isn't it true that only homosexuals and intravenous drug users contract these kinds of diseases?
  • Definitely not. Although the risk at work is low, anyone who comes in contact with contaminated items, like those mentioned above, may contract these viruses.

How can Cal/OSHA help me?
  • That is the purpose of the bloodborne pathogen standard. It instructs your employer to reduce the risk for exposure to a bloodborne infection by first evaluating the hazards you face on the job.
  • If there is a possibility that you may sometime be at risk, then your employer must:
    • Develop an exposure control plan.
    • Give you training so that you learn how to avoid getting exposed to these diseases.
    • Provide you with personal protective equipment (such as gloves or masks) that will allow you to do your job with little risk of infection.
    • Provide you with a vaccination against hepatitis-B if you are in a job where there is risk of exposure, or if you have been exposed — that is, of course, if you choose to have the vaccination and are not already immune to the disease as shown by testing. The vaccination is a series of three shots given over a period of about six months.

What is personal protective equipment and how much will it cost me?
  • Personal protective equipment includes items such as gloves, eye protection, gowns and other things that help prevent contact with contaminated objects, blood or body fluids.
  • Your employer must provide suitable equipment for you at no cost.
  • Uniforms, however, are not usually considered personal protective equipment.

Can I take my personal protective equipment home to launder or clean?
  • Absolutely not. Personal protective equipment must be removed and left at your workplace.
  • It is your employer's responsibility to either dispose of, clean or launder these things according to the manufacturer's directions.
  • Your employer must also replace your personal protective equipment, when needed.

What if my employer refuses to give me personal protective equipment or to allow me to get the vaccination for hepatitis-B?
  • Employers must set guidelines about vaccinations for workers. If there is a risk of exposure, but your employer refuses to provide the required items for you, then you have a right to file a complaint with the nearest office of the California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA).
  • If Cal/OSHA investigates and finds that the employer should have provided these things, then it will require the employer to provide them.
  • It is unlawful for the employer to discriminate against you for filing a complaint.

In the factory where I work, we have an employee whose job is to give first aid to our workers when they get hurt. Should this person get the hepatitis-B vaccination?
  • Your employer should offer this person the hepatitis-B vaccination, as well as provide training and the right kind of personal protective equipment (such as shields if called upon to perform CPR).
  • This also applies to employers of lifeguards, police, firefighters and members of medical emergency teams—as well as to workers in dental offices, prisons, medical laboratories, mortuaries, schools, home health care operations, and other places of employment where there is a possibility of exposure.

What about janitors, housekeepers, plumbers and maintenance workers?
  • Generally, if you work in a hospital, clinic or similar setting, your employer must provide training and protective equipment, and offer the hepatitis-B vaccination.
  • If you work in a hotel, motel or park, then you should at least be provided training on recognizing the hazards.
  • Requiring personal protective equipment or the hepatitis-B vaccination depends on whether you might be exposed to blood or body fluids.

Is it okay to put lunch and toiletries in storage spaces where materials we use at work are stored?
  • This is not a good idea. Never put food or personal items in refrigerators or other spaces used to store possibly hazardous materials.

Could I get workers compensation for this kind of injury?
  • If the rules are followed by you and your employer, any chance of injury or illness will be greatly reduced. But, accidents sometimes happen, so your employer must carry workers compensation insurance to cover any work-related injury or illness that keeps you off the job.
  • If you have any questions that your employer cannot answer, you can call the California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Workers Compensation Information and Assistance Office. The number is in the local telephone directory.

If I applied for a job with a new company, can that company refuse to hire me only because I haven't yet had the hepatitis-B vaccination?
  • Not legally. A potential employer cannot require you to have the hepatitis-B vaccination as a condition of employment.
  • Once you're on board and it is determined that your job may put you at risk of exposure, then the employer must provide you with the vaccination series at no expense to you.

What is an exposure control plan?
  • An exposure control plan is developed by your employer after determining that some workers may become exposed to infectious materials because of their work.
  • It is a written program.
  • Basically, it says what your employer will do to eliminate or minimize exposure to blood or other possibly infectious materials.
  • Your employer can get help in writing the plan from the Cal/OSHA Consultation Service.
  • You can look at the exposure control plan to see how your employer will protect you from such infections on the job.
  • You have the right to get a copy of the exposure control plan from your employer.
  • The Cal/OSHA Consultation Service can also provide information on other things your employer must do to follow the rules, such as:
    • keeping a record of exposures and incidents where workers have been stuck with needles.
    • providing you with training.
    • handling infectious waste properly.

When I see a biohazard symbol, is there anything special I should do?
  • Be careful! When you see that symbol on a cabinet or container, it means that there may be infectious waste inside.
  • Always handle containers so that they do not get torn or broken, exposing you to any infectious waste. You will usually need to also wear gloves.

Where I work I could get stuck by a used needle in bedding, or in a trash can. What if I got cut by a sharp razor blade that had already been used? What should I do?
  • Immediately wash with soap and water. If washing facilities aren't available, use an antiseptic cleanser or towelettes, then wash with soap and water as soon as possible.
  • When in doubt, go to a hospital emergency room and explain exactly how you got cut. You should also immediately report the incident to your employer.
  • Your employer must offer you the hepatitis-B vaccination series, if you haven't had it already. You should begin the series within 24 hours of the incident to ward off possible infection.
  • Your employer should also provide you with medical treatment and counseling.

My employer did offer me the vaccination, but at that time I didn't think I needed it. I'd like to get it now. Is it too late?
  • It's not too late if you are still working for the same employer.
  • You can change your mind and your employer must provide you with the vaccination.
  • If you were stuck with a needle or received a similar injury, began the vaccination series, then left your job, the same employer must provide the remaining shots in the vaccination series—even though you no longer work for that employer.