Health Workers Handling Hazardous Chemicals Often Lack Training: NIOSH

The study provides insight into the training and safety awareness of health care workers who routinely are exposed to several specific hazardous agents.

Health care workers who routinely come in contact with hazardous chemicals frequently have not been trained to protect themselves adequately, according to a newly published NIOSH study. Published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, the study found that such workers "lack training and awareness of employer procedures to adequately protect themselves from exposure."

NIOSH came to this conclusion after performing a survey of health care workers that covered health practices, safety practices, and the use of hazardous chemicals. The method was a survey administered online in 2011 to more than 12,000 health care workers who come into contact with or use hazardous chemicals. The agents NIOSH studied were antineoplastic agents, high-level disinfectants, aerosolized medications, anesthetic gases, surgical smoke, and chemical sterilants.

According to the NIOSH's press release, 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 whether their employers had safe handling procedures. For those exposed to anesthetic gases, 25 percent did not know.
  • 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 percent).

Chemical-specific training and awareness of employers' safe handling procedures varied by employer work setting (ambulatory health care services versus hospitals).

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