Better Safety Measures Aimed to Protect Workers From Opioid Exposure

The nation is combatting an opioid epidemic and, so far, there hasn’t been much coverage about the needs of first responders and other workers exposed to the hazardous substances. Recently, members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform have requested an audit to examine how the U.S. Postal Service is training and preparing its workers to respond to the risk posed by illegal shipment of synthetic opioids.

Workforce Exposed to Opioids

The letter notes situations in which police officers have overdosed after brief contact with small quantities of the drug carfentanil. So far, concern for the USPS workers who may be unknowingly handling packages containing synthetic opioids as well as law enforcement, DEA, emergency technicians, crime lab analysists, and medical personnel has been expressed by the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) and other health and safety organizations.

Keeping Workers Safe

AIHA recommends a 4-pronged approach to meet the needs of workers who may be occupationally exposed to opioids and their synthetic counterparts:

  • Identify any and all workers who may be exposed and the specific activities that place them at risk.
  • Identify the work practices and personal protective equipment that has been successful in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries that may have equal application when handling opioids and synthetics.
  • Develop specific practical guidance and training on controlling exposure.
  • Provide targeted and widespread distribution of the training and guidance to all potentially exposed workers.

Current Efforts to Worker’s Safety

In June, the DEA released a video warning emergency responders about the dangers of fentanyl and urged extreme caution. The acting head of the DEA warns workers to assume the worst and to not touch anything (even the wrappings) without the proper protective equipment. The House Committee leaders requested a review of USPS measures to protect personnel including procedures, training materials, and communication plans.

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