Occupational exposures to hazardous chemicals and agents among healthcare workers in Bhutan


Background: Occupational exposures to hazardous chemicals among healthcare workers can result in long-term adverse health outcomes. Research on such exposures from low- and middle-income countries is limited. The aim of this study was to estimate the prevalence of exposures to a range of chemicals used in healthcare settings among Bhutanese healthcare workers.

Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted among healthcare workers (n = 370) working in three hospitals in the western region of Bhutan. Demographic and occupational information was collected, and exposures to asthmagens, carcinogens, ototoxic and other agents were assessed using a web-based tool. The prevalence of exposure to these chemicals was calculated and the circumstances resulting in such exposures were examined.

Results: The prevalence of exposure to one or more asthmagen, carcinogen, and ototoxic agent was 98.7%, 28.1%, and 7.6%, respectively; and was 6.2% for anesthetic gases and 2.2% for antineoplastic drugs. The most common exposures were to latex, and cleaning and disinfecting agents in the asthmagens group; formaldehyde in the carcinogens group; and p-xylene among ototoxic agents. The circumstances resulting in exposures were using latex gloves, using bleach and chlorhexidine for cleaning, using formaldehyde as a disinfectant and in the laboratory, and using p-xylene in the laboratory.

Conclusions: The results indicate that a large proportion of Bhutanese healthcare workers are occupationally exposed to chemicals linked to chronic diseases, with exposure prevalence higher than in high-income countries. The study provides information that can be used to formulate policies and to implement control measures to protect healthcare workers.

Authors: Rajni Rai, Sonia El-Zaemey, Nidup Dorji, Lin Fritschi
; Full Source: American journal of industrial medicine 2020 Oct 12. doi: 10.1002/ajim.23192.