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Workers not following safe handling guidelines for cancer drugs: study

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Atlanta – Health care workers who administer certain toxic cancer drugs do not always adhere to recommended safety guidelines, according to a new NIOSH study.

About 2,100 health care workers answered questions about antineoplastic drug administration as part of the 2011 Health and Safety Practices Survey of Healthcare Workers.

Antineoplastic drugs are used in chemotherapy to kill cancer cells. Workers who do not follow handling guidelines can develop conditions that include cancer, reproductive issues and organ damage, NIOSH Director John Howard said in a press release.

The study’s findings include:

  • 80 percent of workers did not always wear two pairs of chemotherapy gloves. 15 percent did not always wear even a single pair.
  • 42 percent did not always wear a non-absorbent gown with a closed front and tight cuffs.
  • 12 percent reported a spill or leak during drug administration.
  • 4 percent reported a lack of hazard awareness training.
  • 4 percent had skin contact with the drug.

The primary reason given for why workers did not wear gloves or gowns was “skin exposure was minimal,” according to the study. The results highlight the value of hazard recognition training, researchers concluded.

The study was published online Sept. 25 in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene.