Use caution when handling dangerous disinfectants

Use caution when handling dangerous disinfectants

They help keep your practice germ-free, but these products can do more harm than good if used improperly.
Apr 01, 2011

Disinfectants are a crucial part of your practice—after all, you have to keep your facility clean. But what helps keep your patients healthy can pose trouble for your team members if they don't take the proper precautions. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind when using these products.


It's critical to use accurate dilution rates for the safety of your team members. Disinfectants that are diluted and used according to the directions pose only minimal risk to people and animals. But all too often, team members begin to disregard the manufacturer instructions and begin mixing the disinfectant without measuring accurately.

Usually this results in a stronger-than-necessary solution that poses a health risk. It doesn't enhance the microbial action in the cleaner much, but it certainly does increase the risk of skin irritation or eye damage. For that reason, it's important to always follow the mixing directions carefully and never guess at the amount of water to add to the mixture.


Because some products such as chlorhexidine are fairly safe to use even as an antiseptic on the skin, team members often assume that all such disinfectants are similarly benign. But that myth can be dangerous. As a matter of fact, some disinfectants are extremely corrosive or irritating to the skin and almost all of them are corrosive to the eyes.

In recent years, OSHA has received reports that certain disinfectants have been responsible for a disproportionate share of workplace incidents. Among the disinfectants OSHA is closely watching is glutaraldehyde, a colorless, oily liquid that has the odor of rotten apples. It's widely used as a cold disinfectant for instruments but is not suitable as a tissue antiseptic.

When working with glutaraldehyde, team members should take special care to ensure that the concentrate is not splashed into their eyes or on their skin. Make sure they're always wearing splash-resistant glasses or goggles and neoprene or nitrile rubber gloves when handling concentrated forms of this chemical. After correct dilution, the risk is decreased but not eradicated.


Be prepared to handle an accident quickly and efficiently. If a chemical disinfectant is accidentally splashed into a team member's eyes, she should first call out for assistance. With the aid of a coworker, she should flush out her eyes at an eyewash station for at least 15 minutes, then seek advice from a physician or ophthalmologist.

For splashes on the skin, team members should simply wash the affected area with plenty of water for about a minute, and they should replace contaminated clothing as quickly as possible to prevent prolonged dermal exposure and absorption of the chemical.

If a spill of a concentrated disinfectant occurs, team members should open windows and exhaust fans to increase ventilation, put on protective gloves, absorb the spill with cat litter or a similar absorbent, and sweep the absorbent into a plastic bag, then mop the affected area with clean water.

Remember, some of the properties that make a disinfectant useful for your veterinary hospital also make it hazardous to your team members. So choose the right disinfectant for the job, then make sure you and your team members follow directions closely to keep themselves, your clients, and your patients safe.

Phil Seibert, CVT, is an author, speaker, and consultant with SafetyVet in Calhoun, Tenn. Send questions or comments to