IRSST - Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail

Evaluation of ethylene oxide exposure in health establishments


Recently published studies indicate that ethylene oxide - used as a disinfectant in hospitals - may be carcinogenic. The Canadian Safety Council recommends a ceiling exposure limit for this substance of 5 ppm. This project identified the potential exposure sources to ethylene oxide in hospitals, and assessed the extent of exposure and effectiveness of available control measures. The initial phase of the project consisted of a questionnaire study on the use of ethylene oxide in hospitals. Of the 140 establishments responding, 85 confirmed using ethylene oxide. The specific stages of the disinfection process during which workers are liable to be exposed, and the situations in which leaks are likely to occur, were subsequently characterized in a comparative study of 14 of these 85 establishments.

The most significant exposures generally occurred upon opening the sterilizing equipment and during the transfer of newly-sterilized material; peak concentrations measured under these conditions exceeded 75 ppm. A list of recommended operating procedures, equipment, and work practices was drafted by the IRSST working group and the Association pour la santé et la sécurité du travail du secteur des affaires sociales (Social Affairs Occupational Health and Safety Association), and the project report is being used by the sectorial association as a prevention guide in hospitals.

Additional Information

Type: Project
Number: 0083-0170
Status: Completed
Year of completion: 1985
Research Team:
  • Alain Lajoie (IRSST)