New rule protects healthcare workers from ethylene oxide exposure from sterilizers

By: March 26th, 2010 Email This Post Print This Post

In a recent issue of HCPro’s Hospital Safety Connection, my colleague, Scott Wallask, senior editor, provided good information on the new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation for healthcare facilities using ethylene oxide (EtO) sterilization. In addition to environmental concerns, the new rule has workplace health and safety ramifications as well. Here’s the article:

As of March 1, a single chamber process (i.e., sterilization and aeration occurring in the same chamber) is required for EtO treatment of medical equipment.

This precaution is expected to lower indoor levels of EtO in hospitals, thereby reducing potential long-term health risks for workers, the EPA says.

Manufacturers of ETO have updated their product labels to state the new requirements. Hospital safety professionals should review their current stock of EtO canisters to see if the labels bear the new statement, in which case hospitals can begin single chamber EtO sterilization immediately.

If canister labels do not bear the new manufacturer’s statement, hospitals can continue to sterilize medical equipment according to current EtO label instructions until the product bearing the old label language is depleted, the EPA says.

Hospitals may choose to send some of their medical equipment to contract facilities for sterilization to ease the transition to single chamber sterilization, as contract sites are not required to adopt the single chamber process.

Given the EPA’s connection with worker safety in this case, be cautious of OSHA implications as well.

Look for more detailed information on the EPA EtO rule to appear next month on HCPro’s Hospital Safety Center.

 

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