Addressing management issues By MLO

Jan. 1, 2011

Edited by C. Anne Pontius, MBA, CMPE, MT(ASCP)

Can a courier transport people?

Q In our facilities, specimens are transported in a facility vehicle that also carries passengers among sites. Can a courier vehicle also carry people?

A The Department of Transportation is the regulatory body that manages the rules and regulations covering these topics, and the regulations are complicated. The first part of the regulation (177.870 part b) says “No hazardous materials (except emergency shipments of drugs, chemicals, and hospital supplies) are authorized to be transported on motor vehicles carrying passengers for hire where other practicable means of transportation is available.” That means placing passengers and hazardous materials in the same vehicle should be avoided if at all possible.

The next piece of the regulation (177.870 part d) states if there is “no other practicable means of transportation, [hazardous materials of a certain quantity] may be transported in motor vehicles carrying passengers for hire in a space other than that provided for passengers.” This means if you must transport passengers with hazardous materials, the material quantity is limited, it must not be in the same space as the passenger, and should only be done if there is “no other practicable means of transportation.”

Diagnostic specimens and biological products should be transported in an unbreakable, well-sealed primary container placed inside a leak-proof, closed, unbreakable secondary container, labeled with the biohazard symbol. Courier vehicles also often transport hazardous chemicals (e.g., formalin) to and from the laboratory and should be packaged appropriately. Best practice dictates that people and hazardous material not travel together.

– Dan Scungio, MT(ASCP) SLS
Lab Safety Officer
Sentara Healthcare, Williamsburg, VA

A With proper packaging and transport equipment, I find no evidence prohibiting the transport of specimens in a vehicle that transports people. The common practice I have encountered is to have a specific written policy and procedure addressing the transportation of specimens (and if passengers are allowed) in a van or shuttle which is owned and managed by the institution. The flip side is the institution may also have dedicated vehicles for specimen transport, thus prohibiting people to ride in these vehicles. If the institution operates a transportation department, check with the director to determine if there are institutional policies already in place.

– Kathleen Gorczyca, MT(ASCP) DLM
Director, Laboratory Operations
Christiana Care Health System , Wilmington, DE

A There is nothing specific in the written rules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or Occupational Safety and Health Administration prohibiting the transporting of specimens and passengers in the same vehicle. What is specific and necessary, however, are the following rules: All specimens must be properly contained in coolers, boxes, or other rigid wall containers without possibility of leaking or contamination; all specimen containers must be carried within the vehicle must be confined within a seat belt — no exceptions; and the courier and any other person in the vehicle must have current training in spill control and biohazards.

From an infection-control point of view, having biological specimens and passengers in the same vehicle is a risk. There is no way to guarantee that the vehicle will not be involved in an accident with the possibility of exposure; therefore, the combination of specimens and passengers should be avoided.

Contact the state health department and state reference laboratory for specific sample-transport requirements.

This is an issue that also needs to be worked out with the facility’s legal department, and there should be a written policy addressing this topic in your facility.

– Helen Ogden-Grable, MT(ASCP) PBT
Naples, FL

Bottom line: Not only do regulations play a part in how specimens are transported, but hospital or laboratory policy may dictate whether or not individuals will be permitted in vehicles transporting specimens. Each facility should determine its liability and establish the appropriate protocol. Each expert here has offered advice, but you should research rules for your state and your facility, too, including with your legal department.

Further reading

1.       Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Public Health Resources: State Health Departments. MMWR. Published January 15, 2010. Accessed November 19, 2010.

2.       Association of Public Health Laboratories. Member Laboratory List. Accessed November 19, 2010.

3.       U.S. Department of Transportation. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Hazmat Safety Community. Accessed November 19, 2010.

C. Anne Pontius is a senior medical practice consultant with
State Volunteer Mutual Insurance Co. in Brentwood, TN, and president of CLMA. Send questions to Ms. Pontius at [email protected].