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Firefighter Guidance Note: Medication and Drug Exposure

Disclaimer: This resource has been prepared to help the workplace parties understand some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and regulations. It is not legal advice. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations. For further information please see full disclaimer.

Background

Firefighters, in the course of their duties, may be exposed to medication(s) and/or drug(s) in various forms from contact with:

  • persons suffering from accidental or intentional overdoses of prescription medication, non-prescription medication or illicit drugs
  • equipment or being within a building used in the drug manufacturing process

Concerns/hazards

Medications and drugs that pose potential risks include, but are not limited to chemotherapy medication, opioids and methamphetamine. The risk of exposure may occur through contact with a visibly contaminated patient, direct contact with the medication/drug or contact with equipment or being within a building used in the drug manufacturing process.

Actions for employers

Employers should:

  • develop processes to ensure the protection of firefighters from hazardous exposures to drugs and medications

Safety considerations for medication or drug exposure

Employers should consider the following, when developing processes to prevent firefighter exposure:

  • training on recognizing and determining risks, and taking actions appropriate to manage the level of risk
  • creation of standard operating guidelines to manage exposure to drugs
  • direct firefighters not to handle any medications/drugs or drug paraphernalia, unless necessary to perform a rescue
  • direct firefighters to treat unknown/unidentified substances as hazardous materials and follow any established departmental hazardous materials guidelines
  • safety precautions and personal protective equipment to be used, as appropriate to the level of risk, when responding to high risk incidents
  • decontamination process for personnel who may be exposed
  • reporting protocols for exposures

Training considerations

Training should include, but not be limited to the following:

  • processes addressing the considerations noted in the paragraph above
  • types of medications and drugs that may be encountered and how to identify them
  • the proper selection and use of personal protective equipment during emergency incidents to prevent exposure
  • how to manage exposure should it occur
  • reporting protocols for exposures

Proper instruction, training, use of personal protective equipment and decontamination assists in reducing the chance of exposure and better enables firefighters to manage exposures.

Applicable regulations, acts and standards

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Disclaimer: This web resource has been prepared to assist the workplace parties in understanding some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and the regulations. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations and reference should always be made to the official version of the legislation.

It is the responsibility of the workplace parties to ensure compliance with the legislation. This web resource does not constitute legal advice. If you require assistance with respect to the interpretation of the legislation and its potential application in specific circumstances, please contact your legal counsel.

While this web resource will also be available to Ministry of Labour inspectors, they will apply and enforce the OHSA and its regulations based on the facts as they may find them in the workplace. This web resource does not affect their enforcement discretion in any way.