NIOSH releases interactive map of firefighter fatality data

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) debuted a new workplace safety resource for firefighters that displays firefighter fatality data on a map and shares information about investigations that may improve worker safety.

According to NIOSH, an average of 100 firefighters die on the job annually, and the Continue reading

Protect healthcare workers from exposure to hazardous drugs

Healthcare workers perform life-saving actions on a daily basis, but one act in particular may endanger their own lives: working with hazardous drugs. When healthcare staff handle drugs that have been proven to cause negative health effects in animals or humans, they may be putting their health at risk. Employers may want to require workers to wear personal protective equipment (PPE), or establish engineering and administrative controls to prevent workers from being exposed to hazardous drugs.

Healthcare staff who may be exposed to these substances include nurses, physicians and physician assistants as well as operating room personnel, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) notes the severity of the health effects from handling with hazardous drugs depend on the amount of the exposure and the substance’s toxicity. When healthcare workers come in contact with hazardous drugs, they may experience acute or chronic health problems like skin rashes, reproductive issues and even cancer.

Importance of PPE in protecting healthcare workers
Exposure to hazardous drugs may happen by workers inhaling or having skin contact with the harmful substance. Workers may come into contact with hazardous drugs when they administer them via intramuscular, subcutaneous, or intravenous routes, according to NIOSH. The hazardous drugs also may mix with the air surrounding containers filled with the drugs, such as syringes.

“Workers may be exposed to hazardous drugs when they create aerosols, generate dust, clean up spills, or touch contaminated surfaces when compounding, administering, or disposing of hazardous drugs or patient waste,” according to NIOSH.

​NIOSH recommends employers provide workers with PPE, such as protective clothing and respirators, to help protect them from exposure to these harmful substances. Employers may want to remind workers to wear PPE when they perform the above functions or are expected to touch contaminated surfaces.

Workers may want to wear respirators and gloves to add an extra layer of protection. Respirators may help prevent workers from inhaling fumes given off by the drugs, and the gloves could guard against direct contact with these harmful substances.

Employers also may consider implementing a medical surveillance program to collect data on worker health and help prevent future exposure to hazardous drugs in medical facilities, according to NIOSH. A medical surveillance program includes gathering data on workers’ medical and occupational histories, physical examinations, laboratory studies and biological monitoring. Through this comprehensive program, employers have a greater chance of minimizing the health effects of hazardous drugs.

Arizona workers most at risk for Valley Fever

As employers dispatch workers for jobs in dusty or dry worksites, they may want to provide employees with ways to guard against a fungal disease that is prevalent in the Southwest United States, especially in Arizona and California. Employees who work outdoors may face the risk of exposure to Coccidioides immitis spores, which are known to cause a flu-like illness called Valley Fever.

Valley Fever is a potentially harmful disease that may result in productivity losses from workers having to miss periods of work to get well. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 20,000 cases of Valley Fever were reported in 2011. Of these victims, almost 3 in 4 missed nearly two weeks of work or school as a result of contracting the illness. The CDC cited the average cost of a hospital stay for a patient with Valley Fever to recover from the disease is $50,000, which could result in higher healthcare costs for employers.

Symptoms of Valley Fever
Employers may want to teach workers to recognize the symptoms of the disease and encourage them to seek medical attention if they find they are experiencing negative effects due to exposure. Employers may want to note that the symptoms of Valley Fever are similar to ones connected to the flu. These include fever, cough, headache, rash and muscle or joint pain, according to the CDC. More severe symptoms of this disease include chronic pneumonia and meningitis.

“In most people the infection will go away on its own, but for people who develop severe infections or chronic pneumonia, medical treatment is necessary,” the CDC said.

The CDC said more than 70% of Valley Fever cases happen in Arizona while 25% originate in California. While workers in Arizona and California are more likely to contract Valley Fever than those in other states, the rate of infections is higher in particular months in Arizona. Infections are most common in the period between June to July and October to November in Arizona, according to the Center for Applied Spatial Analysis (CASA) at the University of Arizona.

The agency also said certain groups have a higher risk of exposure to Valley Fever than others.

“Some groups of people, including military personnel, U.S.-Mexico border patrol agents, prison inmates, archaeolo­gists, or construction workers have high levels of exposure to dusty environments where Coccidioides is common,” according to the CDC.

Workers age 60 and older may be more susceptible to Valley Fever than other groups so employers may want to pay them particular attention.