Healthcare Workers and Hazardous Chemicals

Healthcare workers who routinely come in contact with hazardous chemicals lack training and awareness of employer procedures to adequately protect themselves from exposure.

A recent National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) survey found healthcare workers administering aerosolized antibiotics were the least likely to have received training on their safe use, followed closely by those exposed to surgical smoke.

The study is the first in a series of reports describing current practices used by healthcare workers to minimize chemical exposures, as well as barriers to using recommended personal protective equipment.

The chemical agents under study included antineoplastic agents, high-level disinfectants, aerosolized medications, anesthetic gases, surgical smoke and chemical sterilants.

The study found:

  • Workers administering aerosolized antibiotics were the least likely to have received training on their safe use (48 percent reported they were never trained), followed closely by those exposed to surgical smoke.
  • Workers most likely to have received training were those who administered antineoplastic drugs (95 percent) and those who used hydrogen peroxide gas plasma as a chemical sterilant (92 percent).
  • For those exposed to surgical smoke, 40 percent did not know if their employers had safe-handling procedures. For those exposed to anesthetic gases, 25 percent did not know.
  • Those who administered anti-neoplastic drugs were least likely to report they did not know whether their employer had procedures for minimizing employees’ exposure.
  • Chemical-specific training and awareness of employer safe-handling procedures varied by employer work setting (ambulatory health care services versus hospital).

For more information on how to protect yourself from hazardous chemical exposure, see OSHAcademy course 705 Hazard Communication Program.