Washington Passes Bill Regulating Handling of Hazardous Drugs

Without precautions being taken, such as proper ventilation or protective equipment, the preparation, administration, and the disposal of these drugs exposes hundreds of thousands of workers to potentially harmful levels of the chemicals involved.

One of the long-standing ironies in the health industry has been that the chemotherapy drugs that cancer patients and others depend upon for treatment can harm the medical providers caring for them.

On April 14, Washington became the first state in the U.S. to require protection for health care workers when Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law Senate Bill 5594, a bill that directs the Department of Labor & Industries to adopt requirements for the handling of chemotherapy and other hazardous drugs.

"There is strong and convincing evidence that these drugs pose a significant risk to health care workers," said Dr. Michael Silverstein, assistant director for L&I's Division of Occupational Safety and Health. "This legislation ensures workers who provide lifesaving treatment for others aren't placed at risk themselves."

Much of the credit for the new protections is due to state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who recognized the hazard workers face in providing chemotherapy treatment and, in championing this bill, found a way to address the problem.

The same properties that enable chemotherapy drugs to kill cancer cells can also damage normal cells in healthy workers. Without precautions being taken, such as proper ventilation or protective equipment, the preparation, administration, and the disposal of these drugs exposes hundreds of thousands of workers to potentially harmful levels of the chemicals involved.

Some of these drugs have been known to cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, allergic reactions, and other harmful effects that can be irreversible even after low-level exposures. Both OSHA and NIOSH suggest precautions when handling these hazardous drugs.

The bill requires L&I to adopt rules consistent with NIOSH provisions adopted in its 2004 alert on preventing exposures to these drugs, and the 2010 update of that same alert.

L&I is in the process of establishing a stakeholder group and develop this rule.

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