Each pharmacy setting can bring different hazards to pharmacists.
The degree of danger that pharmacy workers are subject to depends on the kind of pharmacy they work in and its location. Pharmacists can be employed in community-, retail-, and hospital-based pharmacies, among others. Each of these workplace settings bring different hazards that need to be addressed to prevent harm.
1. Biological Hazards
Contact with patients and the public exposes pharmacy staff to biological hazards, as will contaminants found in food, water, and the ventilation system. The immunization of workers provides a first line of defense when interacting with patients.
Other measures should also be put into place, including the restriction of access to authorized personnel only, implementation of safe work procedures, and use of personal protective equipment, such as eye protection, gloves, and respiratory protection.
Care should not only be exercised on the medication contained within a pharmacy; the building itself should also be given attention, particularly the ventilation system. Regular maintenance reduces the risk of contamination.
2. Chemical Hazards
Compounding pharmacies make drugs for patients whose medication needs can’t be met by commercially available drugs. Interacting with different kinds of chemicals puts pharmacists at risk, but there are measures that can be put in place to ensure their safety.
Education is crucial, and so are limiting the exposure time and ensuring safe disposal of substances. Pharmacies should have safe work procedures in place in case of spills and any other mishaps that involve harmful substances. In addition, pharmacists working with the chemicals should wear the proper protective clothing and gear, including eye protection, face shields, gowns, and gloves.
3. Ergonomic Hazards
A pharmacy workplace setting should enable workers to move freely and with ease. Additionally, equipment needed for the job, such as computers, should be adjusted accordingly. Providing seating options and designing shelves to make access to medications easier also can improve the health and safety of pharmacists.
Pharmacists rely on computers to do their job, therefore adjustments should be made to make them user friendly. For instance, screen brightness should be adjusted so it doesn’t hurt the eyes. Plus, where and how it is accessed should also be considered.
Materials that are non-slippery should be used on the floors to avoid slips, trips, and falls. Adequate lighting—but not glaring—should be provided for improved depth perception.
4. Physical Hazards
Cuts are one of the most common pharmacy injuries. Sharp instruments (medical instruments, scalpels, and scissors), broken glassware, equipment, and tool use can all contribute to cuts. But these risks can be avoided, or at least minimized, with proper worker education and the implementation of safe work procedures. After using any equipment or tool, it should be put back in a location where it won’t cause any trouble. Wearing protective clothing and gear should also be required.
Burns are another physical injury pharmacists can sustain, especially by those who work with heat sealers. When dealing with such machines, education plays an important role in reducing injuries.
Electrical cords and appliances are widely used in pharmacies, but can also be hazardous. Proper placement of circuits away from elements that pose a danger should be implemented, as should the grounding of fault circuit interrupters when used near water sources.
5. Psychological Hazards
Long hours and an excessive workload are issues pharmacists are subject to, and can be remedied by changing management policies and procedures. Changes can also be made in the work environment, such as providing adjustable lighting, designing a workplace to improve alertness, and setting an appropriate thermal environment.
Pharmacists can also be subject to abuse by clients or fellow co-workers. Workers should be educated about violence awareness and avoidance, and know procedures for de-escalation. Management should also address troubles promptly.
Brandon Welch is the executive vice president of the American Pharmacy Purchasing Alliance and sits on the Advisory Board of Digital Marketing for the University of South Florida​, where he is a PharmD candidate.