Health care workers who prepare or administer hazardous drugs (e.g., those used for cancer therapy, and some antiviral drugs, hormone agents, and bioengineered drugs) or who work in areas where these drugs are used may be exposed to these agents in the workplace. About 5.5 million US health care workers are potentially exposed to hazardous drugs, including pharmacy and nursing personnel, physicians, environmental services workers, workers in research laboratories, veterinary care workers, and shipping and receiving personnel.
It seems counter-intuitive that the health care industry, whose mission is the care of the sick, is itself a "high-hazard" industry for the workers it employs. In fact, published studies have shown that workplace exposures to hazardous drugs can cause both acute and chronic health effects such as skin rashes, adverse reproductive outcomes (including infertility, spontaneous abortions, and congenital malformations), and possibly leukemia and other cancers. The health risk depends on how much exposure a worker has to these drugs and how toxic they are. Workers can be protected from exposures to hazardous drugs through engineering and administrative controls and proper protective equipment.