The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recently reported the outcome of a study that included the participation of 40,000 nurses in a survey about their use of personal protective equipment when they administer chemotherapy medication. Authorities are now concerned about the significant number of health care workers, including some in California, who work with hazardous antineoplastic drugs without protective gear. These drugs are particularly hazardous to female nurses.
Antineoplastic drugs kill cancer cells, but they are toxic, and they can also cause cancer in healthy cells. They could cause mutations, even in fetuses or embryos, impair fertility and cause reproductive toxicity. NIOSH says it is crucial for nurses who are trying to conceive and those who are pregnant or breastfeeding to wear protective gowns and gloves while they administer antineoplastic drugs to patients via intravenous drip or in pill form.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to inform health care workers about the risks of working with antineoplastic drugs and provide the necessary personal protective equipment. Nurses must have an appropriate area for donning and removing protective gowns, gloves and respirators, and there must also be waste receptacles for the safe disposal of contaminated gear. Safety authorities also suggest reassignment of high-risk female nurses to other duties.
Unfortunately, a significant number of health care workers administer chemotherapy without PPE. Those who suffer health consequences might be eligible for workers' compensation benefits to cover medical expenses and lost wages. An experienced California workers' compensation attorney can assist with the benefits claims process and work to obtain the compensation to which the worker is entitled under applicable laws.