How many pharmacists have given a serious thought about safety in the pharmacy?

Workplace safety is definitely a topic worthy of every pharmacist's time and attention. The purpose of having safety checks in the workplace is almost too obvious to ignore: to protect the people working within these premises from harms and illnesses.

While it is not difficult to translate safety concepts into everyday practice, there are many different risk factors at work that must be identified and prioritised before actions can be taken to minimise them.

Biological hazards in the pharmacy

The most commonly encountered hazard in the pharmacy is the risk of infection, as pharmacies are frequently packed with patients carrying different infectious diseases. Many pharmacists also perform simple testing procedures that require skin piercings, such as a glucose or cholesterol test where blood is obtained via a finger prick. This inevitably exposes the pharmacists to blood and possibly other bodily fluids that carry deadly bacteria and viruses.

One particularly important infectious disease in Malaysia is tuberculosis. Pharmacists are among the higher risk group to catch the disease as they frequently work in close proximity with TB patients. The risk is magnified when patients themselves are not aware of their condition (undiagnosed TB patient) and do not take any precaution to avoid the spreading of the disease to others.

Although the country has achieved remarkable results in the Millenium Development Goal (6c: to halt and begin to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases, including tuberculosis (2)), there is still an urgent need to mitigate the risk of infection and to protect vulnerable healthcare personnel from the deadly bacteria.

Risks of harm from chemical agents

Exposure to hazardous chemical agents at the workplace constitutes another important risk factor to the pharmacist’s safety. This is especially true for those working closely in the field of nuclear and oncology pharmacy.

Within these specialities, pharmacists are almost always the exclusive personnel that are qualified to handle dangerous substances such as radioactive medicines or cytotoxic agents. Although all pharmacists must go through specific training, these activities still carry a significant risk of exposure to harmful substances and caution must be exercised at all times.

Unpredictable risks of harm from chemical agents are also present in seemingly innocuous daily practices. For example, exposure to a variety of potent medicines during handling, disposal or administration may carry a risk of allergies, dermatitis or possibly some adverse effects on the unborn baby should the pharmacist be pregnant at the time of exposure.

Ergonomic hazards

Ergonomic hazards are one of the most overlooked occupational risk factors in pharmacy. Generally, the harm that arises from these factors manifests itself as skeletal muscular pain that could be easily mistaken as fatigue from work. If left unchecked, these problems will continue to worsen to the point where the pain and discomfort interfere with daily work routines. In severe cases, surgeries may be required.

Ergonomic hazards commonly come from inappropriately designed workplaces and offices. These include a poor table or bench height, or any workstation that is not set up properly that allows the pharmacist to work in a comfortable position. It is important to recognise that the nature of a pharmacist's work involves a significant portion of repetitive movements, such as during dispensing or crushing tablets for reconstitution into syrups.

Lastly, pharmacists should be reminded that minor accidents such as slips, trips and falls are very common in the pharmacy. Most of the time, these avoidable accidents are attributed to poor placement of common objects within the pharmacy. Such risks are entirely possible to prevent if the pharmacist can maintain a good housekeeping of the premise. MIMS

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