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Why Is Food and Drink Prohibited At The Nurse’s Station?

Over the last several weeks I have received numerous emails dictating the enforcement of work place rules regarding eating and drinking in nursing areas and other areas with patient charts. It seems everyone, from the Chief of Staff to the CEO to the Head Nurse In Charge has been making it very clear that drinking in work areas won’t be tolerated. I have at times been confronted by dutiful staff doing their jobs with a robust sense of confidence to enforce this potentially dangerous patient safety issue.

Or so I thought. Whilst speaking with one of Happy’s friendly colleagues, I learned that the issue of food and drink in the work place has nothing to do with patient safety. Like my colleague stated so eloquently, if there is data that can be presented to me that shows my action of drinking coffee at the work stations would some how harm my patient, I will gladly stop immediately. Discussion finished.

But as I learned from my colleague, the issue of food and drink at the nurse’s station or anywhere near patient charts has nothing to do with patient safety. In fact, the regulations are in place to protect ME from myself.

That’s right, the coffee Nazis are cruising the halls with reckless abandonment searching for violators of the hospital wide coffee ban on rounds not because patients could be harmed, but because I could harm myself.

You see, it turns out my distinguished colleague was told these regulations were not CMS or JCAHO regulations, but rather OSHA regulations.

So I looked it up

“OSHA does not have a general prohibition against the consumption of beverages at hospital nursing stations. However, OSHA’s bloodborne pathogens standard prohibits the consumption of food and drink in areas in which work involving exposure or potential exposure to blood or other potentially infectious material takes place, or where the potential for contamination of work surfaces exists 29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(2)(ix). Also, under 29 CFR 1910.141(g)(2), employees shall not be allowed to consume food or beverages in any area exposed to a toxic material. While you state that beverages at the nursing station might have a lid or cover, the container may also become contaminated, resulting in unsuspected contamination of the hands.

Here are the actual OSHA regulations

1910.1030(d)(2)(ix)

Eating, drinking, smoking, applying cosmetics or lip balm, and handling contact lenses are prohibited in work areas where there is a reasonable likelihood of occupational exposure.

1910.141(g)(2)

Eating and drinking areas. No employee shall be allowed to consume food or beverages in a toilet room nor in any area exposed to a toxic material.

In other words this is not a patient safety issue, but rather an employee safety issue. The Joint Commission has no specific standard on the issue other than for hospitals to comply with OSHA regulations.

So with that in mind, I have two comments regarding the issue:

  1. As a private practice physician who is not employed by the hospital, I would suggest that these OSHA rules do not apply to me and therefore the hospital risks no retribution for noncompliance from the accreditation arm of the Joint Commission, which is why I suspect the issue comes center stage for hospitals everywhere. If necessary, I will gladly sign a waiver to relinquish my rights to compensation should I ever contract a blood born pathogen or other communicable disease from drinking my coffee.
  2. If the hospital believes this is a patient safety issue and wishes to make their regulations stronger than those of OSHA and apply them to ALL people in areas with patient pathogens, I will gladly relinquish my daily fluids when I am shown the data regarding patient harm AND the hospital also bans all patient guests from bringing food or drink into the patient’s room. If this is a patient safety issue, it must apply to everyone should they wish to make their rules stronger than OSHA guidelines.

Until this is resolved with rational thought, perhaps over a round of coffee, I’m going to carry one of these around:

It always seems to work for patients.

*This blog post was originally published at A Happy Hospitalist*


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