NIOSH Report Contains Interesting Information

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) released a report in August of last year titled, “Evaluation of Worker Exposures to Peracetic Acid-Based Sterilant during Endoscope Reprocessing.” The document analyzes a 2006 visit to a hospital that requested a health hazard evaluation because of health problems being reported among employees in their sterile processing department. The report contained a few interesting things relevant to the work that is currently taking place at ChemDAQ.

First was NIOSH’s acknowledgement of the possibility of chemical spills, leaks and processor malfunctions. The report states that exposure is “unlikely”, however at the same time instructs hospital managers to “make sure that processors are inspected periodically for worn parts that can cause leaks” and urges employees to “follow standard operation procedures for processor problems, thumb leaks, and sterilant spills.” While many manufacturers will assure their customers that continuous monitoring of sterilant gases is unnecessary because their equipment cannot malfunction, the NIOSH report makes it very clear that is not the case. According to the report, “processor malfunctions and improper handling and disposal of… containers can result in dermal or inhalation exposures”, as can what NIOSH terms “nonroutine events.”

The second is that this particular hospital had inadequate ventilation of their sterilization rooms and the employees had insufficient training. Without proper training, these workers could experience increased exposure in the event of an adverse incident, which was what prompted the NIOSH evaluation in the first place.

This report once again confirms that sterilizers can and do malfunction and that many workers have insufficient training when it comes to dealing with chemical leaks in the workplace. Without a continuous gas monitoring system, employees would have no way of knowing when chemical sterilants are in the air. This particular report mentions detection of Peracetic Acid by odor, but if you can smell it, it is too late as exposure has already occurred. Furthermore, with inadequate ventilation of the workplace, as in this case, odors from various other chemicals could be in the air, making it difficult to distinguish the harmful from the innocuous. Continuous monitoring enables immediate notification of a leak, allowing employees to exit the area quickly and safely.

To read the full report, visit:
http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/hhe/reports/pdfs/2006-0298-3090.pdf