How to handle in-office laundry seems to be a quandary of many medical/dental facilities. Some confusion comes from the array of adjectives used to describe items that need to be laundered:
Is it dirty? Soiled? Contaminated?
How laundry is defined will dictate how it can be safely handled for laundering. It’s important to know how these words are being used in your office so that your laundry is identified properly and it can be handled safely.
According to the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogen Standard, 1910.1030(b):
- Soiled laundry is described as being either contaminated or not.
- Contaminated laundry is defined as laundry that has been soiled with blood or other potentially infectious materials or may contain sharps.
- Dirty laundry is soiled but not necessarily contaminated.
It is the employer’s responsibility to determine whether laundry is contaminated or not. The determination is not based on the volume of blood or OPIM (other potentially infectious material), but on the potential to release blood or OPIM when it is compressed during handling. (1910.1030 d 3 iv). Through a hazard assessment, employers can set safe laundry handling protocols.
The employer is responsible for cleaning/laundering contaminated PPE, towels and/or linens. Contaminated PPE may not go home with workers. Scrubs are not normally considered PPE, but part of a uniform and they may be laundered at home. Clothing that is penetrated by blood or OPIM must be removed immediately. (1910.1030 d 3 iv)
When handling contaminated laundry, employees must wear protective gloves and other appropriate, protective equipment. Detergents and bleach can splash or spill causing exposure risks to skin and eyes. PPE must be worn when handling contaminated laundry! OSHA does not make specific recommendations for laundry processing such as water temperature or products. Visit the CDC website for more specific laundry guidelines for healthcare.
Contaminated laundry must be kept separate from non-contaminated laundry in an office. OSHA states that a container or bag should be used for contaminated laundry and it should be either labeled or color coded. If the contaminated laundry is wet and presents a reasonable likelihood of leakage, a leak proof bag or container should be used. Contaminated laundry must be stored in the work area, away from food/drink/eating areas. (1910.1030.d ix,x) This can be a challenge for some offices that have a washer and dryer in their kitchen. Using all disposable PPE, towels, etc, can be an easy solution.
It is important that training is provided to those that handle office laundry. Identify the types of laundry in your office. Provide handling protocols, including PPE requirements. Educate staff on how to use an eyewash station in case of a chemical exposure and promote awareness of possible sharps injuries and reporting.