A JCAHO surveyor recently cited a neighboring hospital for having drinks on a nursing station countertop, using OSHA's bloodborne pathogens standard as the basis. Is this a legitimate approach?

Ask The Expert, November 15, 2006

The bloodborne pathogens standard does not prohibit drinks on countertops unilaterally, but only in those places were there is a risk of exposure to blood or other potentially infectious materials.

It may be that the practice at the other hospital was to have clean and contaminated areas in close proximity--close enough to draw the concern of the surveyor. Then, in the absence of a risk assessment that identifies food and beverages in the nursing station as an allowable condition, comes the citation.

The key piece of the risk assessment is the determination of whether blood or other potentially infectious materials are present. If you can ensure that the station area is maintained to keep the risks minimized, you should be okay.

My advice would be to do a quick survey of the nursing stations and focus on where staff keep the specimens rather than whether they consume food and drink. That way, we are looking to identify the level of the exposure risk, not whether there are activities that would contribute to increasing the risk.

If staff figures out that you're looking for beverage consumption, they may try to hide it from you, whereas if you say that "we're looking to see how you manage specimens", you're likely to get a truer picture.

Ask the Expert features advice from Steven MacArthur, a safety consultant with The Greeley Company in Marblehead, MA. If you have additional questions or require further information, please feel free to contact him at smacarthur@greeley.com.