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Page last reviewed: 05/19/2008
Highlights
  • Hospital. OSHA eTool. Focuses on the hazards and controls found in a hospital setting, and describes standard requirements as well as recommended safe work practices for employee safety and health.
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Waste Anesthetic Gases

The anesthetic gases and vapors that leak into the surrounding room during medical procedures are considered waste anesthetic gases. It is estimated that more than 250,000 health care professionals who work in hospitals, operating rooms, dental offices and veterinary clinics, are potentially exposed to waste anesthetic gases and are at risk of occupational illness. The waste anesthetic gases and vapors of concern are nitrous oxide and halogenated agents (vapors) such as halothane, enflurane, isoflurane, and desflurane. Some potential effects of exposure to waste anesthetic gases are nausea, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, and irritability, as well as sterility, miscarriages, birth defects, cancer, and liver and kidney disease, among operating room staff or their spouses (in the case of miscarriages and birth defects). Employers and employees should be aware of the potential effects and be advised to take appropriate precautions.

OSHA standards do not specifically address waste anesthetic gases.

Standards

This section highlights OSHA standard interpretations (official letters of interpretation of the standards), and national consensus standards related to waste anesthetic gases.

OSHA

Note: Twenty-five states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have OSHA-approved State Plans and have adopted their own standards and enforcement policies. For the most part, these States adopt standards that are identical to Federal OSHA. However, some States have adopted different standards applicable to this topic or may have different enforcement policies.

Standard Interpretations

National Consensus

Note: These are NOT OSHA regulations. However, they do provide guidance from their originating organizations related to worker protection.

American National Standards Institute (ANSI)

  • Z79.11-1982, Anesthetic Equipment-Scavenging Systems for Excess Anesthetic Gases

Hazard Recognition

Many health care workers are unaware of the potential health hazards associated with waste anesthetic gases in their work environment. This makes them more vulnerable to illness. The following references provide information and guidance about anesthetic gases and workplace exposures. Sampling and analytical methods are also covered.

  • Controlling Exposures to Nitrous Oxide During Anesthetic Administration. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 94-100, (1994). Presents control measures for preventing or greatly reducing exposure to nitrous oxide (N2O) during the administration of anesthetic gas.

  • Nitrous Oxide. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Workplace Safety & Health Topic.

Sampling and Analysis

Possible Solutions

Exposure to waste anesthetic gases can cause serious injury and permanent damage. Workers that may be exposed to these gases need to be aware of the hazards and possible solutions for their work environment. The following references aid in controlling waste anesthetic gas hazards in the workplace.

  • Anesthetic Gases: Guidelines for Workplace Exposures. OSHA. (Revised May 18, 2000). Provides guidelines and controls to help reduce occupational exposure to waste anesthetic gases.

  • OSHA Technical Manual (OTM). OSHA Directive TED 01-00-015 [TED 1-0.15A], (1999, January 20). Compliance Safety and Health Officers (CSHO's) use the OTM as a reference for technical information on occupational safety and health issues.
  • Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Exposure to Waste Anesthetic Gases and Vapors. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 77-140, (1977, March). Describes biological effects, standard recommendations, and exposure limit recommendations for waste anesthetic gases as well as work practice and control procedures to limit exposure.

  • Control of Nitrous Oxide in Dental Operatories. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 96-107, (1996). Identifies hazards of nitrous oxide exposure and outlines control methods to decrease exposure through system maintenance, ventilation, and work practices.

  • Controlling Exposures to Nitrous Oxide During Anesthetic Administration. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 94-100, (1994). Presents control measures for preventing or greatly reducing exposure to nitrous oxide (N2O) during the administration of anesthetic gas.

  • NIOSH Warns: Nitrous Oxide Continues to Threaten Health Care Workers. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 94-118, (1994, June 14). Provides an update warning health professionals that scavenging systems need to be continuously monitored and maintained to effectively reduce exposure to nitrous oxide.

Additional Information

Related Safety and Health Topics Pages

Other Resources

  • Occupational Health Guidelines for Chemical Hazards. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 81-123, (1981, January). Provides a table of contents of guidelines for many hazardous chemicals. The files provide technical chemical information, including chemical and physical properties, health effects, exposure limits, and recommendations for medical monitoring, personal protective equipment (PPE), and control procedures.