The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently issued guidance clarifying a regulation that prohibits employers from allowing employees to eat or drink near dangerous chemicals.
On May 27, 2009, a representative from the Boeing Corporation wrote a letter to OSHA explaining that employees at Boeing consumed coffee and water in the same area where chemicals such as acetone and paint thinner were being used. The letter inquired whether OSHA had any standards that regulated where food and beverages could be consumed in the workplace.
On June 6, 2010, OSHA responded to the letter by explaining that its Sanitation Standard regulated the consumption of food and beverages in the workplace. The Sanitation Standard provides that: “No employee shall be allowed to consume food or beverages in a toilet room nor in any area exposed to a toxic material.” The term “toxic material” is defined as a material in a concentration or amount that “is of such toxicity so as to constitute a recognized hazard that is causing or is likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” The letter from OSHA explained that acetone and paint thinner constitute “toxic materials.” Accordingly, OSHA advised Boeing that it must prevent its employees from consuming food or beverages in areas where those chemicals are used.
Although common sense dictates that employees should not eat and drink near dangerous chemicals, employers need to communicate this requirement and be vigilant to ensure it is enforced.