HomeHot TopicsReducing the risk of exposure to cytotoxic medications

Reducing the risk of exposure to cytotoxic medications

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) issued a media release recently about five occupational health and safety complaints they filed with the province regarding exposure to cytotoxic medication. AUPE also launched a social media campaign on the risks of cytotoxins. These drugs are primarily used in chemotherapies to fight cancer, but are also used to treat other illnesses including rheumatoid and juvenile arthritis.

AUPE stated they took these actions based on 100 individual complaints received through their issue reporting process. The 100 complaints were all associated with health sector organizations, including public and for-profit organizations as well as Alberta Health Services (AHS). AHS is aware of 23 concerns reported in the past 14 months across the province, all of which were individually reviewed. A review of this type consists of a discussion with the employee about their individual actions and the relevant safety protocols, as well as the offer of a follow up discussion with an occupational health nurse to address any further concerns. Refresher training is often scheduled following concerns being raised, and took place immediately in this case. For all of the individual employees, it was determined there had been no exposure, and no employees reported any subsequent illness or health effects.

The health and safety of staff and patients is more than a priority for AHS: It is a deep value, connected with every healthcare priority we have and linked to every action we take. Providing a safe environment for our staff to carry out their important work for the health and well-being of Albertans is something we take very seriously. This accountability includes building awareness of health and safety risks, investgating workplace incidents, following up with preventive actions and working to address system issues.

AHS has a system of controls in place to protect staff from exposure to hazardous medications. It includes rigorous safety policies and procedures, education and training, and the provision of appropriate personal protective equipent for all health workers at potential risk. For this specialized area, training modules also address the important topic of waste management and how to properly dispose of cytotoxic waste.

The issues raised by AUPE tell us that some staff do not feel safe at their workplace at all times, and this is something we also take very seriously. AHS will continue to take steps to make sure employees have a strong awareness of risk and ways to limit exposure, have sufficient training and knowledge of appropriate use of personal protective equipment. We will continue to work closely with AUPE on the health and safety of our staff --  their members -- and have committed to collaborating on an enhanced safety communication and training plan, building from the work that is already underway by AHS.  

AHS is a health and safety leader and we will continue to drive improvement across the health sector on this topic


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