Governor signs bill giving health-care workers more protection on the job

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TUMWATER – One of the long-standing ironies in the health industry has been that the chemotherapy drugs that cancer patients and others depend upon for treatment can harm the medical providers caring for them.

Today, Washington became the first state in the nation to require protection for these health-care workers when Governor Chris Gregoire signed into law Senate Bill 5594, a bill that directs the Department of Labor & Industries to adopt requirements for the handling of chemotherapy and other hazardous drugs.

"There is strong and convincing evidence that these drugs pose a significant risk to health-care workers," said Dr. Michael Silverstein, assistant director, L&I's Division of Occupational Safety and Health. "This legislation ensures workers who provide lifesaving treatment for others aren't placed at risk themselves."

Much of the credit for the new protections is due to state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who recognized the hazard workers face in providing chemotherapy treatment and, in championing this bill, found a way to address the problem.

The same properties that enable chemotherapy drugs to kill cancer cells can also damage normal cells in healthy workers. Without precautions being taken, such as proper ventilation or protective equipment, the preparation, administration, even the disposal of these drugs exposes hundreds of thousands of workers to potentially harmful levels of the chemicals involved.

Some of these drugs have been known to cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, allergic reactions, and other harmful effects that can be irreversible even after low-level exposures. Both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) suggest precautions when handling these hazardous drugs, but Washington will be the first state in the nation that says health-care employers must take these precautions.

The bill requires L&I to adopt rules consistent with NIOSH provisions adopted in its 2004 alert on preventing exposures to these drugs, and the 2010 update of that same alert.
L&I will now establish a stakeholder group and develop this rule.

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For media information: Hector Castro, L&I, 360-902-6043.

Broadcast version:
Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law a bill that makes Washington the first state in the nation to protect health-care workers who handle hazardous drugs used in chemotherapy for cancer patients. The drugs have been known to cause everything from allergic reactions to cancer when workers are exposed without the proper precautions. The bill the Governor signed requires the Department of Labor and Industries to adopt requirements for the handling of these hazardous drugs.


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