Following PPE guidelines can protect healthcare workers

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report that approximately 8 million healthcare workers are exposed to hazardous drug and drug waste while on the job.

Dangerous drugs commonly used for cancer therapy and hormone treatment may cause skin rashes, reproductive disorders and cancer in people whose job it is to handle or administer them. Affected workers run the gamut of healthcare jobs and may include researchers, veterinarians, operating room employees, doctors and aides, pharmacists, nurses – even workers who handle shipping and receiving.

However, the solution for employers to reduce risk and lessen workers’ compensation insurance claims may be relatively simple: Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Common healthcare PPE may include:

Although gloves is a general term, not all types may protect workers’ skin from rashes and reactions to hazardous drugs and material, and thickness of the gloves is generally not an indication of their protection levels. Employers may want to educate employees on various glove types and encourage their staff to inspect gloves for defects before handling dangerous drugs. It is also important when wearing multiple pairs of gloves to wear the inner glove cuff under clothing and the outer glove cuff over clothing. Employers may also want to train employees on how to properly dispose of gloves that may have been contaminated with hazardous drugs and waste.

Employers may choose to provide employees with gowns that protect against hazardous drugs. Managers who go this route may want to double check gowns before distributing them to  employees to ensure the PPE does not have gaping openings or seams that may allow the drugs to permeate. NIOSH-approved gowns have long sleeves, fitted cuffs and may be coated with laminate materials. Gowns that have been in contact with hazardous materials should not be worn out of the area to protect other workers and patients in the facility.

Sleeve, hair and shoe covers
PPE designed to protect workers’ hair, sleeves and shoes may also play a part in protecting workers from dangerous exposure; though, proper wear and disposal training may be helpful to avoid spreading or tracking drug residue into other areas.

More information about healthcare worker PPE and risk assessment may be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention NIOSH website.

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