A recent article on the Scrubs website, “Chemotherapy Drugs are Killing Nurses” shared important facts and concerns regarding the handling of hazardous drugs. It also highlighted the need for comprehensive education and collaboration to establish a culture of safety around the use of these drugs by building respect, not fear, for hazardous drugs in the workplace.

Hazardous drug education is recommended by ONS, the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, and many other organizations. The ONS position statement notes that nurses caring for patients receiving hazardous drugs are educated in all aspects of chemotherapy and biotherapy administration, including the principles of safe preparation, storage, labeling, transportation and disposal, as well as the use of personal protective equipment. 

In addition to the position statement on education, ONS, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and Hematology Oncology Pharmacy Association have collaborated to write a position statement focused on the responsibilities of organizations where these drugs are given. The position statement calls for policies and procedures, engineering controls, use of PPE, waste disposal, and protecting the rights of staff members who are trying to conceive, are pregnant, or are breast feeding by engaging in alternative duty that does not require hazardous drug handling. However, individuals still have safe handling responsibilities.

What Should Nurses Do?

  • Know the drugs you are administering. 
  • Know what your policies and procedures are and follow safe handling recommendations, including the use of PPE and the process of spill cleanup. 
  • Protect yourself and your colleagues by being aware of the risks and areas for improvement in your setting.
  • Report safety concerns.

What Should Managers, Hospitals, and Other Employers Do? 

  • Ensure that staff are educated about the safe handling of hazardous drugs and provide engineering and administrative controls needed to create a safe environment for drug preparation and administration. 
  • Provide easy access to PPE, and hold each staff member accountable for its use. 
  • Assure that an effective process for reporting safety concerns exists.
  • Initiate a medical surveillance programs and have a plan for alternative duty. 
  • Test the treatment area for surface contamination and monitor the safety in your setting.

What’s the key takeaway? Treat hazardous drugs with knowledge and respect, but don’t fear them. Managers, employers, and staff need to collaborate to create a team that’s committed to safety. Creating a culture of safety around the use of hazardous drugs not only benefits the staff, but our patients as well. Receiving chemotherapy is a big deal. They are powerful drugs and must be prepared and administered in a safe environment by educated professionals.