cancer treatmentStarting January 1, 2014, health care workers in California will have new protections in the form of legislation that establishes workplace safety practices for the safe handling of chemotherapy drugs.

AB 1202 requires the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health to adopt, as state regulations, recommendations by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for reducing exposures of health care workers to hazardous drugs. Currently those recommendations are followed on a voluntary basis.

According to NIOSH, eight million healthcare workers nationwide are exposed to more than 150 hazardous drugs each year.  

The recommendations cover training workers on how to prepare and administer hazardous drugs, requiring ventilated cabinets, needleless systems and closed-system drug transfer devices to minimize exposure.

A 1999 study found that workers who handle toxic drugs have an increased risk of infertility and miscarriages. There is also a correlation between handling chemotherapy drugs and an increased risk of breast, thyroid, nervous system and brain cancers.

The bill was supported by health care industry advocates and labor representatives including the California Nurses Association, California Labor Federation, California Association of Professional Firefighters and the California Healthcare Institute

California becomes the second state to adopt NIOSH’s recommendations as law, following action by the state of Washington in 2012.