A new report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that employers institute medical surveillance programs for health-care workers who are occupationally exposed to hazardous drugs, and suggests practical strategies and components for such programs.
The document, Workplace Solutions: Medical Surveillance for Health Care Workers Exposed to Hazardous Drugs, supplements previous NIOSH resources that highlighted potential health risks for health-care employees who are exposed to hazardous drugs.
The U.S. health care industry is one of the fastest growing sectors, with over 16.6 million workers in 2005. It is estimated that 5.5 million of these health care workers are potentially exposed to hazardous drugs or drug waste, including pharmacists, nurses, physicians, maintenance workers, operating room personnel, and others who may come into contact with these drugs while performing their job.
Hazardous drugs are those that have been determined through research studies to have a potential for causing harm to healthy individuals, including potential risks of cancer, skin rashes, birth defects, and reproductive toxicity. These same drugs also play a critical role in treatment of patients with serious illnesses like cancer and HIV infection. Although the potential therapeutic benefits of hazardous drugs outweigh the risks of side effects for ill patients, exposed health care workers risk these same side effects with no therapeutic benefit.