How to protect healthcare workers from hazardous drugs
All drugs carry risks, as well as benefits, as the patient warnings listed on the accompanying inserts indicate. One class of drugs with especially serious risks are anticancer drugs, which can be associated with organ damage, reproductive harm, hearing impairment, and cancer. For patients who need these drugs for treatment, the benefits often outweigh the risks.
For healthcare workers, however, it is critical to prevent possible exposures through a comprehensive drug-safety program that includes a method called surface wipe sampling. Studies show that healthcare workers face exposure to anticancer and other hazardous drugs, most often through skin contact, although accidental inhalation and ingestion also can occur.
To summarize the current state of surface wipe sampling in healthcare and to provide basic guidance, investigators at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) with university and business partners recently reviewed published studies.
To prevent exposure to hazardous drugs, it is important to first identify contaminated surfaces through surface wipe sampling, they report in the peer-reviewed Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene. This method involves using special wipes to test workplace surfaces and then sending the wipes to a lab that analyzes them for the presence of hazardous drugs. Based on their review, the investigators recommend surface wipe sampling as an important component of a comprehensive drug-safety program to identify where skin exposure to hazardous drugs could occur. Although there are no guidelines for permitted levels of hazardous drugs, surface wipe sampling can disclose if a facility’s levels are high, compared with those of similar facilities. Most importantly, healthcare organizations can use the results of surface wipe sampling to evaluate the effectiveness of their drug-safety programs in reducing the risk of skin contact with hazardous drugs.
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