Health and Safety Practices Survey of Healthcare Workers

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Antineoplastic Drugs – Administration

Here you will learn what we found regarding antineoplastic drug administration and best practices for minimizing exposure.


Antineoplastic drugs, also known as chemotherapy, cytotoxic and oncology drugs, are used to treat cancer, as well as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and other non-cancer medical conditions. Most antineoplastic drugs are classified by NIOSH as hazardous drugs.1 About 8 million U.S. healthcare workers are potentially exposed to hazardous drugs.2

Healthcare workers exposed to chemotherapy drugs have increased risk3 of

  • Leukemia
  • Other cancers
  • Adverse reproductive outcomes
  • Chromosomal damage

Guidelines on the safe handling of antineoplastic drugs have been available for many years.3-6 This study was conducted to assess adherence to exposure controls and best practices in these guidelines.

The antineoplastic drug administration survey module  was mostly completed by oncology nurses, oncology/hematology nurses, and infusion nurses. We found that safe handling guidelines were not always followed. Both employers and healthcare workers share responsibility for adhering to best practices to minimize exposure to antineoplastic drugs.

Best practices and study findings

Overall, findings from this survey show that best practices to minimize exposure to antineoplastic drugs have not been universally implemented. Healthcare employers and employees share responsibility to ensure adherence to safe handling guidelines (see below). Since there is no safe level of exposure to cancer-causing agents even incidental exposure to antineoplastic drugs is unacceptable.

What we found What employers/employees should do
80% of survey respondents said two pairs of chemotherapy gloves were not always worn; 15% said they did not always wear even a single pair,

42% of respondents said they did not always wear nonabsorbent gown with a closed front and tight fitting cuffs.

4% of respondents said that they had direct skin contact with the drug when administering antineoplastic drugs to patients.

Avoid skin contact with liquid antineoplastic drugs by always wearing two pairs of chemotherapy gloves and a nonabsorbent gown with a closed front and tight fitting cuffs during administration activities.2-6
6% of respondents said they primed I.V. tubing using antineoplastic drug and 12% said the pharmacy had primed the I.V. tubing in this manner. Prime I.V. tubing with a non-hazardous drug containing liquid.3-6
57% of respondents said that they did not always use a closed system drug-transfer device (CSTD) when administering liquid antineoplastic drugs to patients.

12% of respondents said that spills or leaks of antineoplastic drugs had occurred during administration, primarily while attaching, injecting or detaching from the I.V. line.

Use closed system drug-transfer devices (CSTD) and needleless systems to reduce likelihood of exposure to liquid or aerosolized antineoplastic drugs.3-6
12% of respondents said they took home clothing that may have been contaminated with antineoplastic drugs, placing themselves and even family members at risk of exposure. Avoid taking home any clothing that may have been contaminated with antineoplastic drugs.3-6
4% of respondents said they lacked safe handling training and 36% said that it was more than 12 months ago. Provide training to employees on the hazards of antineoplastic drugs and safe handling precautions to minimize exposure. Information and training should be provided at the time of initial job assignment and annually thereafter.3-6
77% of respondents said that their employer did not provide medical surveillance or were unaware whether such a program was available. Provide medical surveillance for employees exposed to hazardous drugs and encourage them to participate. Information can be used to identify and correct prevention failures and also provide early identification of health problems in exposed workers.


1 NIOSH list of antineoplastic and other hazardous drugs in health care settings 2016

2 NIOSH Workplace solutions: Personal protective equipment for health care workers who work with hazardous drugspdf icon

3 NIOSH Alert on preventing occupational exposures to antineoplastic and other hazardous drugspdf icon

4 ASHP (American Society of Health-System Pharmacists) guidelines on handling hazardous drugsexternal icon

5 OSHA. Controlling occupational exposure to hazardous drugsexternal icon

6 Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) Chemotherapy and Biotherapy Guidelines and Recommendations for Practiceexternal icon

7 NIOSH Workplace Solutions: Medical surveillance for healthcare workers exposed to hazardous drugspdf icon

Survey and report

To request a copy of this survey, please email

Journal articleexternal icon

Page last reviewed: March 30, 2017