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OSHA recommends evaluation, management
The recently released U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) latex technical information bulletin states that health care facilities should develop policies and procedures for reducing health care workers’ risk of developing natural rubber latex (NRL) allergies in the workplace.1
"Safe zones" — areas where non-latex products are used after latex proteins are thoroughly removed — may need to be established for HCWs already sensitized to latex, the bulletin states.
Risk reduction strategies include an initial workplace survey and assessment, along with "a coordinated effort to identify and catalogue all NRL products." Managers should be ready to choose appropriate non-NRL alternative products to control exposures and to facilitate creation of NRL-safe zones.
While it is not possible to determine which HCWs will develop latex allergy, evidence links that allergy with allergies to certain foods and plants, such as avocado, banana, kiwi, chestnut, pollens, and grasses. Another risk factor is a history of multiple surgeries. To help ascertain reaction rates and manage symptomatic workers, OSHA notes that some health care facilities use periodic screening questionnaires for latex allergy symptoms in workers with significant NRL exposure, such as surgical personnel.
"Evaluation of signs/symptoms associated with latex allergy should be accomplished under the direction of a physician with expertise in NRL allergy, with additional medical testing and treatment made available if indicated," the bulletin states.
Latex-free procedure trays and crash carts for treating NRL-allergic individuals are recommended should emergency response to a worker’s symptoms include resuscitation. OSHA says to anticipate those situations in the workplace, hospitals should consider providing immediate access to non-NRL-containing equipment.
1. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Technical Information Bulletin: Potential for Allergy to Natural Rubber Latex Gloves and Other Natural Rubber Products. Washington, DC: OSHA; April 12, 1999.