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Hazardous drugs and drug waste threaten health care workers

Hazardous drugs and drug waste threaten the safety of millions of workers in California and across the country. Along with health care workers, others in the life cycle of some dangerous drugs face similar risks of potential exposure. Contamination can happen via various routes of entry into the bodies of workers involved in shipping, receiving, distribution, transport, compounding, administering and the ultimate disposal of hazardous drug waste.

Nonclinical at-risk workers include those involved in housekeeping, maintenance and laundry at facilities where hazardous drugs are present, and workers responsible for transporting and disposing of drug waste. Along with health care workers, unintentional contamination threatens family members and visitors of patients to whom hazardous drugs were administered. Contamination can occur through contact with patients' sweat, stool and urine, or by touching contaminated surfaces.

In clinical setups, the workers who face indirect or direct exposure include physicians and their assistants, pharmacy technicians, pharmacists, nurses, operating theater personnel, veterinarians and veterinary technicians. Along with administration, routes of entry into the body include exposure to hazardous drug dust or aerosols and spills that are not cleaned properly. Contamination can occur through inhalation, absorption through the skin, ingestion and injection. Ingestion of hazardous particles can unintentionally occur through hand-to-mouth contact, and injection includes accidental skin puncture by needle stick or another sharps injury.

Safety authorities in California are particularly concerned about the occupational hazards faced by health care workers, and anyone who suffers the consequences of exposure to hazardous drugs will likely be eligible for workers' compensation coverage. Medical expenses and wage-replacement typically form part of the benefits. Legal counsel can assist to ease the often challenging claims process.

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