The U.S. Department of Labor announced an agreement with Rite Aid to implement a program to better protect employees, including front-end customer service staff, against hazards related to bloodborne pathogens at all of its approximately 370 stores in New Jersey and New York.
The agreement follows an investigation opened by the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration in April 2022 after a retail employee at a Rite Aid location in Niagara Falls was instructed to clean up spilled blood in February 2022 following a customer injury. OSHA learned that before the incident, the employee had not been offered a hepatitis B vaccine and that Rite Aid lacked an appropriate exposure control plan, in violation of federal regulations. OSHA cited the retail drugstore chain for corresponding violations of the agency’s bloodborne pathogens standard.
Initially, Rite Aid contested the citations before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. In a settlement agreement with OSHA, the company will pay an amended $10,000 fine, withdraw its notice of contest and take remedial actions at all New Jersey and New York stores including:
- Develop and implement an exposure control plan with safety precautions for retail employees who may be required to clean up or otherwise handle blood or other potentially infectious materials at work;
- Train these retail employees about bloodborne hazards in the workplace, including all information that is required by OSHA regulations regarding how employees can handle blood or other potentially infectious materials safely;
- Offer a hepatitis B vaccination series at no cost to all retail employees who may be required to clean up or otherwise handle or be exposed to blood or potentially infectious materials.
- Not require other retail employees — not covered by the program — to clean up or otherwise handle blood or potentially infectious materials, and clearly instruct those employees about who to contact for assistance if there is a blood spill or other incident requiring clean up or handling;
- Have Rite Aid managers and third-party consultants monitor stores for compliance with the agreement’s requirements and report back to Rite Aid and OSHA about compliance; and
- Not retaliate against employees who express concerns or provide information about safety issues to managers or to OSHA.
“Our settlement agreement with Rite Aid Corp. will significantly enhance safety for many of the company’s employees in hundreds of stores in the metro-area and beyond. They have committed to making sure employees at its New Jersey and New York stores are trained and protected by the same safeguards that apply to employees whose job-specific duties require coverage under the bloodborne pathogen standards,” explained OSHA Regional Administrator Richard Mendelson in New York. “The settlement expands Rite Aid’s bloodborne pathogens protections for those employees who could encounter blood or other bodily fluids while working in the front-end retail area of the stores.”
“This settlement shows that the U.S. Department of Labor will pursue litigation outcomes that expand and maximize safety and health protections for workers. Here, an incident at one Rite Aid pharmacy led to an agreement in which the company has undertaken enhanced abatement of bloodborne pathogen hazards at all its New York and New Jersey stores,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor Jeffrey Rogoff in New York.
OSHA’s Buffalo Area Office conducted the inspection. Trial Attorney Carina De La Paz in the department’s regional Office of the Solicitor in New York litigated the case and negotiated the settlement.
OSHA’s bloodborne pathogens standard protects workers who can reasonably be anticipated to come into contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials as a result of doing their job duties. The standard sets requirements for what employers must do for workers in such situations. Requirements include but are not limited to establishing an exposure control plan, training employees and providing the hepatitis B vaccine in the event of exposure, among other safeguards.