Pregnant Nurses at Risk

February 17, 2019

Pregnant nurses may be at risk of miscarriage or birth defects, according to a recent National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) study. The study, published in the American Journal of Nursing, reports that approximately 40 percent of pregnant nurses do not wear protective gowns when administering antineoplastic (chemotherapeutic) drugs to treat cancer. The reproductive toxicity of these powerful drugs is well established, yet many nurses do not take the proper safety precautions – an indication that further education and training is necessary.

Dangers of Cancer Drugs

Antineoplastic drugs, whether in liquid or pill form, are hazardous. The drugs target dividing cancer cells but may also harm the dividing cells of a developing fetus. According to NIOSH, cancer patients who take the drugs have an increased risk of infertility and pregnant patients have an increased risk of having a miscarriage or a child with a birth defect.

These reproductive toxicants are not only harmful to those who receive them, but also to the pharmacists who prepare them, the nurses who administer them, and other healthcare workers who come in contact (directly or indirectly) with the drugs such as doctors, operating room workers, shipping and receiving personnel, and waste handlers. Those who administer them also have an increased risk of infertility, miscarriage, and birth defects.

Necessity of Precautionary Measures

Previous occupational exposure studies suggest that workers who have long-term, low-level exposure to the drugs are at increased risk of reproductive issues. Safe handling guidelines recommend that nurses who administer the drugs wear two pairs of gloves (one pair of latex gloves and one pair of chemotherapy gloves) and a water-resistant gown for protection. However, according to the study, many nurses do not wear the minimum recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) when working with antineoplastic drugs.

Results of the Study

One of the first of its kind, the NIOSH study collected data from more than 40,000 nurses, both pregnant and nonpregnant, to assess the level of glove and gown use among those who administer antineoplastic drugs. Researchers found the following:

  • 27 percent of nonpregnant nurses reported administering the drugs within the past month
  • Seven percent of pregnant nurses reported administering them within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy
  • 12 percent of nonpregnant nurses reported never wearing gloves, and 42 percent reported never wearing a gown, while administering the drugs
  • Nine percent of pregnant nurses reported never wearing gloves, and 38 percent reported never wearing a gown, while administering the drugs

NIOSH Recommendations

According to NIOSH officials, this study underscored the need for continued education and training. Nurses should be made aware of the hazards associated with administering antineoplastic drugs and advised about the proper precautionary measures to take. NIOSH also encourages employers to afford workers adequate time to handle the drugs safely and provide them with the appropriate PPE.

Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C. Help Nurses Obtain Compensation for Occupational Illnesses

If you have a work-related illness, contact a Philadelphia workers’ compensation lawyer at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C. We can help you obtain the workers’ compensation benefits to which you are entitled. For a free consultation, please complete our online contact form or call us at 888-PITT-LAW today.

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