Decontamination is the process of removing contaminants (infectious agents) that have accumulated on people who have worked in a contaminated or likely contaminated environment.

Proper decontamination:

  • Protects the worker from getting hazardous or infectious matter on their bodies and clothes.
  • Minimizes the transfer of hazardous substances into clean areas.
  • Prevents uncontrolled movement of contaminated material from the site.

Decontamination procedures are specific to the industry, job task, and worksite. These procedures are outlined in the site safety plan and must be followed.

Decontamination occurs in stages or steps with a defined order that must be followed to ensure the maximum protection and minimum spread of disease:

  • Decontamination begins when a worker exits the contaminated area, called the exclusion or “hot” zone.
  • The process of cleaning/disinfecting and removing PPE occurs in the contamination reduction zone or contamination reduction corridor, just outside of the hot zone.
  • As the worker moves through the decontamination process, he or she gets closer to the clean area.
  • A worker should never cross back and forth between the zones because doing so spreads contamination.


Disinfection is a process that eliminates most or all infectious organisms from objects and surfaces. Usually liquid chemicals are used as disinfectants. These may include certain alcohol-based hand cleaners and bleach solutions.

The particular disinfectant used and how often disinfection occurs depends on the location, type of surface, type of soiling, type of infectious agent, and which task is performed. The employer’s written schedule for cleaning and disinfection should identify these specifics on a task-by-task basis.

A sample disinfection protocol includes these steps:

  • Remove all visible debris, especially organic material.
  • Wash the area or item with water and detergent.
  • Thoroughly rinse the cleaned area to remove any detergent residue.
  • Allow the area to dry completely.
  • Apply the appropriate disinfectant.
  • Allow the proper contact time (usually at least 10 minutes).
  • Thoroughly rinse and allow the area or item to dry