Antineoplastic drugs are most commonly used to treat cancer as part of chemotherapy and have been responsible for saving many lives. In addition to attacking and destroying cancer cells, however, these medications have been known to cause serious problems in healthcare workers who have been exposed to them. The risk to workers handling these agents has prompted the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to perform a study on the handling procedures of these medications and the results were alarming. Many of the workers involved in the study had not been properly trained or failed to follow the guidelines in place for safe handling of these potentially harmful substances.
The Effects of Antineoplastic Agent Exposure
Chemotherapy drugs are effective at destroying cells and preventing the replication of new ones. This is extremely useful when fighting cancer because cancer cells reproduce at a quick pace, causing the disease to spread. When a worker who is healthy is exposed to these medications, they may cause immediate or long term medical complications. These effects can include the following.
- Skin rashes, hives or allergic responses
- Hair loss
- Loss of fertility and difficulty bringing children to term
- Harm to unborn children including birth defects and neurological disorders
- Lowered immune response
- Increased risk of cancer
Workers must be properly trained and aware of the risk that these medications present before handling them and follow the guidelines put in place to protect them from the effects of exposure.
The Failure of Workers to Follow Safety Protocol
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health discovered that workers failed in multiple areas to reduce the threat of exposure to antineoplastic agents and that some even failed to follow the recommended guidelines already in place. Workers failed in the following areas to address the risk of exposure.
- The use of two pairs of chemotherapy gloves— 80% of workers failed two use a second pair while 15% did not use chemotherapy gloves at all.
- The use of a nonabsorbent gown— 42% of workers did not use this required piece of personal protection equipment when administering chemotherapy drugs.
- Spills and leaks were reported in 12% of the cases, with the potential of exposing multiple workers to the antineoplastic agents.
- Contaminated clothing or potentially contaminated clothing was taken home in 12% of the cases in the study, posing a risk to the workers’ families as well.
- 4% of workers lacked adequate safety training to work with the antineoplastic materials.
- Direct contact to the skin was also reported in 4% of cases.
When workers handle antineoplastic materials improperly they do not only place themselves at risk. Other workers may come in contact with the medications as a result and suffer severe harm as a result. For this reason, it is important that all medical workers are made aware of the risks and adhere to safety guidelines as the failure to do so can make them liable for damages caused to others who come in contact with these agents.
If you believe that you have been exposed to chemotherapy medications and suffered injuries as a result, contact us today for a free consultation. We will be happy to review the details of your case and let you know more about your rights. If we are unable to collect compensation on your behalf, our services will be free of charge.