Seth Eisenberg shudders at the statistic and its irony: About 8 million U.S. health care workers are potentially exposed to hazardous drugs, including lifesaving chemotherapies that are administered to cancer patients every day.
“The issue here is hazardous drug safety,” said Eisenberg, the professional practice coordinator for Infusion Services at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. “Since 1979, we have known that health care professionals, nurses, and pharmacists who are handling chemotherapy are being exposed to what we now know as hazardous drugs, which are very dangerous to health.”
Hazardous chemotherapy drugs are capable of causing serious and deadly effects to those exposed, including organ toxicity, fertility problems, genetic damage, birth defects, and cancer, Eisenberg said. Nurses who handle these drugs may be exposed during accidental needle sticks, spills due to accidental disconnection of patient lines, or during drug spill cleanup. Small amounts are dangerous and even a drop or two of vapor poses a threat to health, he said.
As a result, it is vital that health care workers involved with any stage of the hazardous drug handling process be educated on the risks of exposure and recommended safety precautions. Eisenberg is a study in dogged determination and laser focus. Safety is so important to Eisenberg that he has committed his life to working on behalf of his health care colleagues.
As far as safety measures and adhering to state and national health standards, Eisenberg characterized SCCA’s ranking as ahead of the curve. “At SCCA, we are devoted to a higher ground of safety culture to keep our staff safe,” Eisenberg said.
Eisenberg has been practicing in the field of oncology since 1983, and his experience includes 30 years in hematopoietic stem cell transplantation nursing at SCCA and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He has published scores of articles on chemotherapy and biotherapy, written three book chapters, and leads presentations on safety measures at nursing and pharmacy conferences worldwide.
During the April 2016 Oncology Nursing Society’s 41st Annual Congress in San Antonio, Texas, Eisenberg led a two-day workshop on “Self-Advocating for Protection against Hazardous Drugs.” The seminar focused on nursing concerns regarding exposure to hazardous drugs, such as lack of safety measures, inadequate personal protective equipment, or lack of a safety culture to use full protection when handling drugs.
Eisenberg travels internationally to advise nurses and health care workers about hazardous drug safety. While awareness of this issue is on the rise, state regulation mandating the development of hazardous drug programs is still in progress, with Eisenberg also helping with implementing legislation in Washington state.
In April 2011, Washington state legislators passed two bills designed to protect nurses, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and other healthcare workers who may be potentially exposed to chemotherapy.
Eisenberg was asked to sit on the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries rule making committee.
Eisenberg seeks to educate the healthcare industry on the legislation to help protect both current and future oncology professionals in the United States, and raise the standard for hazardous drug safety on a global scale.