Sue Crump

InvestigateWest's reporting fuels two worker safety bills to be signed by governor Wednesday

Gov. Chris Gregoire is expected to sign two bills Wednesday  that will help protect healthcare workers from dangerous drug exposures, making Washington the first state in the country to have enforceable safe-handling standards.

The lawmaking has gotten the attention of the federal government as well, which this week issued a letter to healthcare workplaces, advising them to update their safety practices. The letter, signed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and The Joint Commission (the national hospital accreditation agency), highlighted the potential for serious adverse occupational health effects.

“This is a victory,” said Dr. Melissa McDiarmid, Director of the Occupational Health Program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, whose research has shown chromosomal damage in workers who handle chemotherapy.

Both bills, which passed unanimously through the House and Senate, were sparked by InvestigateWest’s reporting on hazardous drug handling practices, which showed that lack of workplace regulation was resulting in workplace contamination and worker exposures. Such exposures can result in irreversible effects that include cancer, reproductive harm and developmental problems.

SB 5594, sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, requires the state to regulate chemotherapy and other hazardous drugs by creating a safe-handling standard for healthcare workplaces. “It is unacceptable that health-care workers risk exposure to deadly chemicals on a daily basis while on the job.  This measure could literally save lives by requiring the development of workplace safety standards for these professionals,” Kohl-Welles said.

Byline: 
Carol Smith's picture

InvestigateWest's reporting brings health-care worker safety focus in Legislature

Byline: 

Washington legislators plan to push this session to strengthen worker safety protections for health-care workers who handle chemotherapy drugs on the job, and to provide better tracking of cancers that develop from occupational exposures.

On Jan. 17, Sen. Karen Keiser introduced the first of the bills, SB 5149, which would require that the state cancer registry capture occupational data from cancer patients.

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, chair of the Labor, Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee, has drafted legislation that will create an occupational safety standard for oncology clinics and other places where chemo is used.

Both bills were developed in response to InvestigateWest’s investigation last year exposing the ongoing risk to health-care workers who handle chemotherapy for their jobs. The story appeared on our Web site, and in The Seattle Times, on MSNBC.com, and in an investigative report co-produced with KCTS 9 in Seattle.

“Chemotherapy drugs have been classified as hazardous by the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) since the mid-1980s, yet we still do not have adequate workplace safety protections in place for health-care workers who handle these powerful drugs on a daily basis,” Kohl-Welles said.  “This important legislation addresses the problem by establishing occupational safety standards that are specific to chemo-containing drugs.”

Such a standard, which does not exist at the federal level, would give state regulators the legal authority to crack down on lax safety practices, she said.

Carol Smith's picture

The story behind "Lifesaving Drugs, Deadly Consequences."

When InvestigateWest Executive Director Rita Hibbard and I first met Sue and Chelsea Crump, Sue was suffering from cancer that she and Chelsea suspected may have been triggered by her long history of handling chemotherapy. The tip rang a bell for Rita, who recalled mention years earlier of studies indicating oncologists got certain cancers at higher rates. When Rita asked me to look into the story, it triggered a strong association for me as well. My grandmother had served as an Army nurse in WWI near the trenches in France. Many years later, I remember her recounting the horror of treating young soldiers blistered and burned by mustard gas, the precursor of today’s cancer drugs. I understood their power.

 Between the four of us, we believed there was at least the seed of a story worth examining. That early conversation led to InvestigateWest’s year-long investigation. The story was widely published and broadcast, receiving strong national attention.  It has triggered discussions at state and national levels of how to improve regulation to keep healthcare workers safe.

Through the last two years, Chelsea underwent two profound role reversals. She was a student who became a source, and a daughter who became her mother’s caregiver. Today she is finishing a double major at Western Washington University and learning to live without her mom for the first time. She is the reason we know her mother’s story. This, in her own words, is her own story:

My Mother’s Story: A Daughter’s Journey

By Chelsea Crump