Health care workers are exposed to a vast array of health and safety hazards, unsurpassed by any other service industry and perhaps unequaled by industry in general. These hazards include exposure to biological agents, physical agents, stress, injury and chemical agents.
The hospital environment abounds with hazardous chemical agents. A hospital survey conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found at least 135 chemicals recognized as carcinogens, teratogens, mutagens, or which have some combination of these effects in humans or animals. Another 179 chemicals found in hospitals are primary irritants of the skin or eyes. Although employee risks associated with chemicals have been neglected all too frequently, attention finally is being directed to assessing and reducing these risks. Among the toxic substances that present health hazards to health care providers are disinfecting and sterilizing compounds, chemotherapeutic agents and anesthetic gases.