Health care workers who routinely come in contact with hazardous chemicals lack training and awareness of employer procedures to adequately protect themselves from exposure, according to a new NIOSH study.
The survey of more than 12,000 health care workers found that workers administering aerosolized antibiotics were the least likely to have received training on their safe use, followed closely by those exposed to surgical smoke.
Conducted in 2011, the Web-based survey is the largest federally sponsored study of health care workers that addresses safety and health practices and use of hazardous chemicals, according to NIOSH. The study results are published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.
"Safeguarding health care workers from potential occupational hazards is an essential part of providing good jobs for these dedicated men and women, and furthering high-quality patient care," NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard said. "The limited information available on safe-handling practices associated with use of hazardous chemicals makes our work even more important."
The study is the first in a series of reports describing current practices used by health care 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.
Among the highlights, the study found that:
- 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 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 employer safe-handling procedures varied by employer work setting (ambulatory health care services versus hospital).
NIOSH said the survey’s findings will help the agency and other health care stakeholders better understand current health and safety practices related to working with hazardous chemical agents; identify gaps in current knowledge about those practices; and design further research in collaboration with partners for addressing those gaps.