When the employees at a police department in Kentucky expressed concern about potential exposures and health effects when working in the vault used to store drug evidence, their agency contacted the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to request a Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE). Two drug-vault employees (who were assigned to another department before the evaluation) reported experiencing symptoms they believed were related to their work in the vault. The symptoms reported by the employees included nose bleeds, respiratory problems, skin rashes, "memory fog", fatigue, anxiety, vision problems, burning eyes, and facial twitching. Drug-vault employees’ duties at the department included receiving, storing, and retrieving drug evidence; transporting drug evidence; maintaining inventory; and retrieving evidence for disposal. Prior to the NIOSH HHE, the employees inventoried evidence while inside the vault. However, at the time of the evaluation, they began using carts to bring the evidence to the office area for inventory (to limit their time in the vault). Employees could spend several hours in the vault each day, and were potentially exposed to drug particles, mold from marijuana plants, volatile chemicals used in the manufacture of the drugs, and volatile chemicals used to mask the odor of the drugs. Drugs in the vault included marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, and oxycodone. As part of the evaluation, NIOSH provided a list of recommendations to the police department to improve the overall work conditions in the drug vault and adjacent areas. This list is summarized below and may be applicable to other police departments. These recommendations are based on the hierarchy of controls approach that groups actions by their likely effectiveness in reducing or removing hazards. Generally, elimination, substitution, and engineering controls are more effective than administrative controls and PPE. Often, a combination of different types of controls is necessary to fully protect employees.
Law-enforcement; Law-enforcement-workers; Police-officers; Confined-spaces; Drugs; Narcotics; Health-hazards; Exposure-assessment; Air-sampling; Inorganic-acids; Volatiles; Organic-compounds; Sampling; Air-contamination; Ventilation-systems; Terpene-compounds; Odors; Physiological-effects; Neurological-reactions; Molds; Work-practices; Training; Personal-protective-equipment; Medical-monitoring; Medical-screening; Odor-control; Indoor-environmental-quality; Storage-facilities