Nurses often work in settings where they are exposed to chemical, biological, and physical hazards. Among the most commonly identified perils for nurses are workplace violence, verbal abuse, musculoskeletal injuries incurred from lifting and patient transfers, needlesticks and sharps injuries, exposure to bloodborne pathogens, hand washing-related dermatitis, and exposure to cold and flu germs.

Based on what we now know, it’s important to add to this list the risk of airborne pathogens contained in surgical smoke, also known as plume. Surgical smoke can contain live viruses and bacteria as well as toxic chemicals, particulates and contaminated body fluid in the form of blood and dispersed vapor. Plume serves as a transfer vehicle for these pathogens, and exposure to surgical smoke poses a potential risk to the health of operating room staff as well as to patients.

Especially troubling for perioperative staff is the fact that electrosurgical smoke contains extremely fine particles that can accumulate in alveolar tissue or be taken into cells. This means that surgical nurses, who often spend long hours in operating rooms, are at an even higher risk due to prolonged exposure to surgical smoke.

OR staff often consider the presence of surgical smoke a routine and inevitable hazard of the job. But effective smoke capture can prevent bloodborne pathogens from being aerosolized and thereby reduce or even eliminate this risk. By using a smoke evacuation system capable of up to 100% smoke capture efficiency, such as I.C. Medical’s Crystal Vision smoke evacuation system, dispersal can be significantly decreased or eliminated.

The advocacy role: Nurses are among the most trusted health professionals and their engagement on an issue can have a meaningful, positive impact on patients, co-workers, healthcare facilities, communities, and on official policy.  The American Nurses Association emphasizes that every nurse has the opportunity to make a positive impact on the profession through day-to-day advocacy for patients, fellow nurses and the nursing profession.

As a nurse, the best thing you can do to ensure your own safety and that of others around you is to take it seriously. Value your health and well-being, and be cognizant of the risks associated with surgical smoke. Know and use best practices, and advocate for policies and protocols that enhance safety and well-being in the clinical setting. When given the opportunity, speak out about the risks associated with the nursing profession, including the risk of exposure to surgical smoke. Make sure your administration knows why high-quality safety equipment is necessary.

OSHA estimates that 5.6 million out of roughly 12.2 million workers in the healthcare industry and related occupations are at risk of occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens. By eliminating surgical smoke in the operating room as a source of exposure, we could go a long way in reducing this statistic.  Clearly, there needs to be more awareness of the dangers of surgical smoke, and the efficacy of state-of-the-art plume evacuation technology.