Rhode Island has become the first state to pass legislation requiring ORs to use smoke evacuation systems for surgical procedures that generate plume.

Rhode Island House Bill 5324, signed into law by Governor Gina Raimondo, requires all hospitals and freestanding ambulatory surgical facilities in the state to adopt policies to use a smoke evacuation system for surgical procedures that generate plume. Hospitals are required to report to the R.I. Department of Health within 90 days that they’ve adopted policies regarding surgical smoke ventilation.

This is clearly a landmark law and a key step forward in promoting health and safety in operating rooms.  Kudos to the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN) and the Rhode Island State Nurses Association, both of which advocated for the law’s passage and provided testimony on the dangers of surgical smoke.

Last year, both California and Rhode Island nearly passed laws requiring surgical plume evacuation. The California legislature is taking another crack at getting a law on the books this year, and the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United have thrown their support behind the measure. The full California legislature is expected to take up the bill this session.

Surgical smoke contains toxic gases and vapors such as benzene, hydrogen cyanide, and formaldehyde, biological aerosols (a suspension of living bacteria, viral particles or fungal spores), and viruses and blood fragments containing blood borne pathogens (including multi-resistant strains and mutagenic cancer producing particles). Prolonged exposure can lead to serious and life-threatening diseases. According to OSHA, an estimated 500,000 healthcare workers, including surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists, and surgical technologists, are exposed to laser or electrosurgical smoke each year.

As the first state to address surgical smoke evacuation by law in the United States, Rhode Island has set a national precedent for the protection and safety of perioperative nurses and their colleagues on surgical teams. We sincerely hope that Rhode Island’s proactive legislation will lead California and other states to follow suit.