According to the CDC, the healthcare industry is the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. economy—employing over 18 million workers. These workers face a range of job hazards such as back injuries, exposure to human pathogens and stress. Many are unique to this industry, such as needle/sharps sticks, latex allergy, or injuries due to patient violence. The CDC states that while many industry sectors have experienced reductions in occupational injury and illness, healthcare workers continue to experience incidents in the workplace, and cases of nonfatal occupational injury and illness among to healthcare workers are among the highest of any industry sector.
To make matters worse, while little improvement has been shown in curtailing the types of injuries listed above, a new study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found healthcare workers that routinely come in contact with hazardous chemicals lack training and awareness—increasing their exposures to these hazards as well. The study is the first in a series of reports describing current practices used by the healthcare industry to minimize chemical exposures—and includes the obstacles these workers face 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 details of the study were recently published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.
How the Research was Performed
Researchers analyzed data from over 12,000 health care workers. Information was collected via the Health and Safety Practices Survey of Healthcare Workers, a federally sponsored survey that focuses on safety and health practices and the use of hazardous chemicals among healthcare workers.
Results Show Lack of Training
The study brought to light a gap in training when it comes to the handling of hazardous chemicals in the healthcare arena. Highlights include:
- 48 percent of workers using aerosolized antibiotics reported they were never trained regarding their safe use—this was the group least likely to have received training
- 40 percent of health care workers exposed to surgical smoke were unaware if their employers had safe handling procedures
- 25 percent of health care workers exposed to anesthetic gases did not know if their employers had safety measures in place
- 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).
Researchers did note that certain sectors of the healthcare industry were more likely to receive appropriate training. For example, 95 percent of those administering antineoplastic drugs and 92 percent of those working with hydrogen peroxide gas plasma were adequately trained. Results for training in general varied depending on where the employee actually worked, hospital verses ambulatory care.
NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard said, "Safeguarding healthcare 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."
Emilcott has over 28 years of experience working with the healthcare industry to safe guard its employees and its public. We are experts in the area of industrial hygiene, fire and life safety, facility issues such as mold, lead and asbestos, and general occupational and public safety and health.