Publish Date: September 22, 2021
Surgical smoke, which is released when lasers and electrocautery devices are used during surgery, remains one of the greatest workplace safety hazards you face every day in the OR. It contains toxic chemicals, bacteria and live viruses, and in some cases, carcinogenic agents. While technology is available to remove the harmful smoke, it is not in widespread use throughout the country.
You (and your family and friends) have the power to protect yourself and your patients from surgical smoke by signing a petition to urge OSHA to make the use of smoke evacuation technology a regulatory requirement your facility must follow.
The petition to OSHA is part of AORN’s national advocacy supporting the health and safety of perioperative nurses, their OR colleagues and patients. AORN will deliver the petition to OSHA during Perioperative Nurses Week, Nov. 14–20, 2021.
Clear Your OR Air
OSHA acknowledged the dangers of surgical smoke in a 1988 hazard bulletin. However, the federal agency tasked with ensuring workplace safety has never issued regulations to prevent the release of surgical smoke in the OR environment, explains Jennifer Pennock, MS, AORN Associate Director of Government Affairs.
She believes going straight to OSHA with this petition is an important aspect of AORN’s work toward ensuring every OR nurse can work in an environment free of surgical smoke pollutants.
“We are gathering signatures to show OSHA the overwhelming support for this essential health and safety measure,” Pennock says. “Nurses signing on to the petition can proudly join this national campaign to ensure their health and safety in the workplace.”
Pennock has been working with nurses and legislators in states across the U.S. to pass laws requiring the use of smoke evacuation technology and so far, Rhode Island, Colorado, Kentucky, Oregon and Illinois have enacted such laws. She says future surgical smoke evacuation legislative successes at the state level would be strengthened by an OSHA regulation.
“Congress created OSHA to ensure safe and healthful conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and providing training, outreach, education and compliance assistance,” Pennock notes. “At AORN, we believe that an OSHA standard specific to surgical smoke evacuation would prevent occupational exposure to surgical smoke and be a major step in protecting the health of surgical staff.”
Know the Facts About Surgical Smoke
Too often nurses may think that the bad smell of surgical smoke that fills the OR is more of a nuisance, yet research continues to be published showing the very dangerous consequences of being exposed to surgical smoke.
A single plume of surgical smoke can release these dangerous particles into the air you breathe:
- toxic compounds such as benzene
- viruses such as HPV and likely the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19
- carcinogenic particles that can cause cancer
- mutagenic particles that can alter your genes
- live bacteria such as Staphylococcus
National education initiatives such as AORN’s Go Clear Award Program guide surgical teams through every step necessary to successfully implement and sustain surgical smoke evacuation as a practice standard.
AORN is also preparing to release an updated Guideline for Surgical Smoke Safety that includes new evidence on the documented harms of surgical smoke exposure.
Learn more about clearing the air in your OR.
Contact Jennifer Pennock and get involved with advocacy efforts to require surgical smoke at the state and national levels.
More Free Resources for Members
Get ready-to-use and customizable templates and tools for implementing the Surgical Smoke guideline.
AORN Journal CNE Articles:
- Surgical Smoke: Putting the Pieces Together to Become Smoke-Free
- Guideline Implementation: Surgical Smoke Safety