The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) says it’s received a number of complaints from front-line health-care workers about exposure to potentially dangerous cytotoxic medications.
Mainly used in chemotherapy to fight cancer, cytotoxic medications are also used to treat an increasing number of illnesses, most recently rheumatoid and juvenile arthritis.
“So far, the union’s filed five occupational health and safety complaints with the province over members’ exposure to cytotoxic meds at facilities in Edmonton, Westlock, Cold Lake and Vegreville. We continue to receive complaints of exposure from members almost daily,” AUPE vice-president Carrie-Lynn Rusznak said in a news release Monday.
Exposure may cause pregnancy related issues, vital organ damage and in some cases, forms of cancer, the union said.
“Many health-care workers are directly exposed to these drugs every day and without proper personal protective equipment, may inhale, ingest or absorb them,” Rusznak said.”We’re calling on employers to do more to protect front-line workers from the dangers of exposure to cytotoxic meds.”
In a statement, an Alberta Health Services spokesperson said the health authority was made aware of five concerns when they arose in April and June of 2017.
Haydon Dewes said AHS workplace health and safety conducted an investigation to determine the level of exposure and potential risk. Dewes said AHS spoke with the employees and determined “there had been no exposure that could cause harm.”
“This was communicated back to employees and their labour representatives.”
AHS said workplace health and safety nurses then reached out to the affected staff members to answer any questions they might have had.
Dewes said steps are continually being taken to enhance workplace safety measures, including ongoing education on risk-management practices. He said AHS has safety policies in place that include direct training from CancerControl Alberta and a cytotoxic manual.
Alberta currently has no guidelines on how staff should handle cytotoxic meds when preparing and administering them or cleaning equipment and linens exposed to the drugs.
“AUPE strongly encourages workers exposed to cytotoxic meds directly or indirectly, without proper personal protective equipment, to file a report-only claim with the Workers’ Compensation Board,” Rusniak said.
— With files from Brad Wisker and Caley Ramsay.