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NIOSH Study Provides Insight into Healthcare Worker Training & Handling of Hazardous Chemicals


February 19, 2014
NIOSH Update:

Press Office Contact: Nura Sadeghpour (202) 245-0673

A new study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that healthcare workers who routinely come in contact with hazardous chemicals on the job lack training and awareness of employer procedures to adequately protect themselves from exposure. The study is newly published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

Results are derived from the Health and Safety Practices Survey of Healthcare Workers, the largest federally sponsored survey of healthcare workers that addresses safety and health practices and use of hazardous chemicals. NIOSH administered the web-based survey in 2011, partnering with professional practice organizations whose members represent various healthcare occupations likely to use or come in contact with the chemical agents under study. Over 12,000 healthcare workers participated.

“Safeguarding healthcare workers from potential occupational hazards is an essential part of providing good jobs for these dedicated men and women, and furthering high-quality patient care,” said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. “The limited information available on safe handling practices associated with use of hazardous chemicals makes our work even more important.”

The study is the first of a series of reports which describes current practices used by healthcare workers to minimize chemical exposures as well as barriers to using recommended personal protective equipment. The chemical agents under study included antineoplastic agents, high level disinfectants, aerosolized medications, anesthetic gases, surgical smoke and chemical sterilants.

Study findings include:

  • Workers administering aerosolized antibiotics were the least likely to have received training on their safe use (48% reported they were never trained), followed closely by those exposed to surgical smoke.
  • Workers most likely to have received training were those who administered antineoplastic drugs (95%) and those who used hydrogen peroxide gas plasma as a chemical sterilant (92%).
  • For those exposed to surgical smoke, 40% did not know if their employers had safe handling procedures. For those exposed to anesthetic gases, 25% did not know.
  • Those who administered antineoplastic drugs were least likely to report that they did not know whether their employer had procedures for minimizing employees’ exposure (3%).
  • Chemical specific training and awareness of employer safe handling procedures varied by employer work setting (Ambulatory Healthcare Services versus Hospital).

The findings from this survey are expected to help NIOSH, partners, and healthcare providers better understand current health and safety practices relative to working with hazardous chemical agents, identify gaps in current knowledge about those practices, and design further research in collaboration with partners for addressing those gaps. To access the study online, visit:

NIOSH is the federal agency that conducts research and makes recommendations for preventing work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths. To learn more about healthcare safety and health, visit: More information can be found at