Washington State has become the first state in the nation to adopt specific workplace safety rules to protect healthcare workers who are potentially exposed to cancer treatment drugs and other hazardous medications.
One of the long-standing ironies in the health industry has been that chemotherapy drugs that treat cancer can harm the medical providers caring for them.
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, even the disposal of these drugs exposes hundreds of thousands of workers to potentially harmful levels of the chemicals involved.
Washington state’s law, issued earlier this month by Washington’s Department of Labor & Industries, stems from legislation passed in April 2011 and signed into law by Governor Chris Gregoire. The rule applies to healthcare facilities in which employees are “reasonably anticipated” to have “occupational exposure to one or more hazardous drugs.”
The CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) published a list of about 150 agents that meet their hazardous drug definition. NIOSH estimates that about 5.5 million healthcare workers—-from nurses and pharmacists to housekeepers and veterninary care staff—are potentially exposed to these hazardous agents.
Under the rule, which will take effect beginning in 2014, healthcare facilities with employees who are reasonably anticipated to have exposure to hazardous drugs will be required to develop a hazardous drugs control program. Components of the program include a written inventory of hazardous drugs in the workplace; a hazard assessment; and policies and procedures such as engineering controls, safe handling practices, personal protective equipment, spill control and waste handling.
Healthcare workers’ exposure to chemotherapeutic agents is projected to swell in the years ahead as the US population ages. And chemo drugs themselves have found wider application—in the treatment of arthritis, multiple sclerosis and other diseases—which puts them in a wider array of physicians’ offices. Also, veterinarians are now increasingly using these drugs to treat animals, putting those who work in vet’s offices in contact with chemo.”
The new Washington State workplace safety rule is designed to protect pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, physicians and physician assistants, nurses and patient care assistants, home health care workers, veterinarians and vet techs, housekeeping, laundry, and waste disposal staff in health care facilities, and employees in health care facilities who ship, or receive hazardous drugs from the manufacturer or distributor.
Federal OSHA does not have a specific regulations to address this hazard. In April 2011, about the same time the Washington State legislature was passing the bill to address healthcare workers’ exposure to hazardous medications, OSHA, NIOSH and the accrediting organization The Joint Commission sent a letter to thousands of health care organizations reminding them of this workplace hazard.
Want to know more about the healthcare laws that will affect your business? Contact the experts at PACE Staffing Network today!