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Home Back Issues No. 81: Who pays for laundering my team’s lab coats?

Jul 11

No. 81: Who pays for laundering my team’s lab coats?

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Who pays for laundering my team’s lab coats?

Reader question: My lab has started a new line of experiments that require a lot of messy reagents, so our lab coats start to look grungy pretty fast. I asked our chair if the university has a central laundry to refresh lab coats. But he said the price per coat was high, and I should probably launder them at home.

I don’t think that’s a fair arrangement, and I’m concerned that bringing the coats home may pose safety risks to my family. Is there a way to get around this? Can I pay campus laundry charges with my grant money? Should the school pay for this out of its “overhead” taken from my award?

Expert comments: If the labcoat laundering expense is for work on a series of grants or for general lab work, you should charge the laundering expense to overhead (facilities and administration) on your grant. If the lab coats need to be laundered because of work on one specific grant — which seems to be the case here with the messy reagents — you can charge it directly to that grant.

Note: Under OSHA’s personal protective equipment (PPE) standard (CFR 1910.132(a)), the employer is required, at its expense, to provide and maintain in a sanitary condition the PPE that is required to perform the job safely. The regulation states:

Protective equipment, including personal protective equipment for eyes, face, head, and extremities, protective clothing, respiratory devices, and protective shields and barriers, shall be provided, used, and maintained in a sanitary and reliable condition wherever it is necessary by reason of hazards of processes or environment, chemical hazards, radiological hazards, or mechanical irritants encountered in a manner capable of causing injury or impairment in the function of any part of the body through absorption, inhalation or physical contact.

There are a few exceptions to the employer-paid rule for things like meta-tarsal guards, work boots and ordinary clothing, but they don’t apply in this situation.

You and/or your staff cannot be required to home launder any PPE (including lab coats) that contain hazardous reagents. A quick call to your institution’s Environment, Health and Safety office should confirm this OSHA standard. And since you can charge the laundering directly or as overhead, the institution should launder the messy lab coats.

Expert comments by Ed Jameson, CEO of Jameson & Co., a CPA firm in Lexington, Mass., that specializes in government grants and contracts.

Comments (4)
Director/Manager of Research-Department of Preventive Medicine
written by Walter Washington, June 27, 2011
OSHA dictates personal protective equipment (PPE) to be provided to all employees who work directly with hazardous equipment/solutions. Most institutions today are cutting back to save on a few dollars, however, the cutback cannot hamper the safety of indiviuals. Before going to OSHA with a complaint, I would ask administration this same question: "Have you considered the safety of your employees"? If the answer is "no", I would consider informing OSHA if the threat to emplowees health is in question. You don't want to wait until an accident happens to be proactive; in which case you will then be reactive to the incident!
written by Mark Boothby, June 27, 2011
Agree with the comment above to the effect that - to my understanding via my U - OSHA considers it to be unacceptable and unsafe to clear PPE (labcoats, etc) in home laundry, outside laundromat, etc. For cordiality of relations, I'd even be a bit less discordant than the line suggested above, and just ask the various admin liasons "Is this advice compliant with OSHA regulations?" For that matter, does your institution not have a Health / Safety unit. Final point however, and question where I lack the expertise except to know the question is there: If your lab coats are being dirtied in the course of doing experiments paid for by sponsored funds, might not the laundering be considered a direct cost? (i.e., why not go ahead and wash the coats @ a compliant facility and charge to your grant?)
written by Stealth sexism?, July 11, 2011
It's a little more difficult in our lab suite. The Chair has all our dirty lab coats deposited in a sack, which he then "gives" to a female tech on Friday with the words,"Would you be a dear and run these over the weekend for us?". Let me be clear; there are no dangerous germs or chemicals on the coats; just dirt. But there's an implied threat she'll lose her job if she doesn't "cooperate". She doesn't dare speak up since she needs the money.
written by Curious, July 11, 2011
Is it a requirement though to have lab coats provided by the employeer in a lab? Is it by OSHA mandated that personnel wear lab coats? If yes, would agree employeer pays. If not, could it be considered employee choice. Anyone know the OSHA standard for mandating lab coats?

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