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April 22, 2014

NIOSH: Healthcare Workers Lack Awareness of Hazardous Chemical Safety

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A new study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that healthcare workers who routinely come in contact with hazardous chemicals on the job lack training and awareness of employer procedures to adequately protect themselves from exposure.

Key findings include:

  • Workers administering aerosolized antibiotics were the least likely to have received training on their safe use (48% reported they were never trained), followed closely by those exposed to surgical smoke.
  • For those exposed to surgical smoke, 40% did not know if their employers had safe handling procedures. For those exposed to anesthetic gases, 25% did not know.
  • Workers most likely to have received training were those who administered antineoplastic drugs (95%) and those who used hydrogen peroxide gas plasma as a chemical sterilant (92%).
  • Those who administered antineoplastic drugs were least likely to report that they did not know whether their employer had procedures for minimizing employees' exposure (3%).
  • Chemical-specific training and awareness of employer safe handling procedures varied by work setting (ambulatory healthcare services vs. hospitals).

Results were derived from the 2011 Health and Safety Practices Survey of Healthcare Workers, with more than 12,000 healthcare workers participating. The study is the first in a series of reports that describe 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.


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