Study: Healthcare workers still exposed to hazardous surgical smoke

Study: Healthcare workers still exposed to hazardous surgical smoke

A recent study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), found that healthcare workers continue to be exposed to hazardous surgical smoke even with the existence of evidence-based practices and recommended controls available to protect them.

The study was presented on November 3, 2015 at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting in Chicago.

“OSHA estimates that one-half million healthcare workers are exposed to surgical smoke each year,” said Andrea Steege, PhD, NIOSH epedimiologist and study author.

“We found that while guidelines have been available to protect these workers for over 20 years, they are not widely followed. It is important for employers and workers to understand the risks and take steps to put recommended controls into practice.”

More than 4,500 respondents who indicated exposure to surgical smoke, either during electrosurgery or laser surgery were directed to a hazard module that inquired about their practices related to control of surgical smoke. Results indicated that only half of the respondents that local exhaust ventilation (LEV) , which is a widely used control was always used during laser surgery and only 15 percent LEV was always used during electrosurgery.

The findings also indicate that control of surgical smoke in workplaces may not be a priority. Almost half of the respondents said they have never received training on the hazards of surgical smoke and one-third said that LEV use was not part of their work protocol.

Various researches have proven that exposure to surgical smoke can have acute and chronic health implications, including eye, nose and throat irritation, emphysema, asthma and chronic bronchitis.

NIOSH recommends general room ventilation in addition to LEV to minimize worker’s exposure to surgical smoke.

Results of the study were derived from the 2011 Health and Safety Practices Survey of Healthcare Workers, which is the largest federally-sponsored survey of healthcare workers in the United States. It addresses safety and health practices relative to use of hazardous chemicals.

The results from this study will help NIOSH, partners, employers and healthcare workers achieve a better understanding of current health and safety practices relative work working with hazardous chemicals, identify gaps in current knowledge about those practices and, in collaboration with partners, and design further research for addressing those gaps.