Archive July 2018 XIX, No. 7

When Will Your State Outlaw Surgical Smoke?

Last month, Rhode Island passed the first state law mandating surgical smoke evacuation. It could help clear the air in ORs across the country.

Daniel Cook

Daniel Cook, Executive Editor


KICK THE HABIT Surgeons prefer to work with unobtrusive smoke evacuators that are integrated with surgical instruments.

Surgical teams in Rhode Island can breathe a little easier thanks to a new state law that mandates the use of surgical smoke evacuators in all licensed hospitals and surgery centers whenever a procedure produces plume. The law, passed last month, is the first of its kind in the country that protects OR staff from surgical smoke. Surgical facilities must report compliance with the mandate to the state health department by April 1, 2019.

The landmark legislation generated cheers from surgical professionals across the country who've grown tired of being exposed to airborne chemicals, carcinogens, viruses and bacteria. For now, they're left to wonder when their states will pass similar workplace safety legislation to protect their long-term health.

"It's a great day for the profession anytime we can help ensure the safety of our nurses," says Donna Policastro, RNP, ED, executive director of the Rhode Island State Nurses Association. "As one state representative said, it was a no-brainer. Hopefully it will inspire other states to pass similar legislation."

Ms. Policastro, who was instrumental in lobbying for passage of the bill, has a message for nurses who want to work in smoke-free environments: "You have to work hard to educate your legislators," she says. "Don't assume they know anything about the dangers of surgical smoke."

Army of one

Nurses in California thought they, too, would be working in smoke-free ORs by now, but Gov. Edmund Brown vetoed a bill last October that would have mandated surgical smoke evacuation. Lauren Fujhara, MN, RN, CNOR, CNS, clinical nurse specialist at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, Calif., is frustrated by her state's inaction, but thrilled for her peers in Rhode Island. "I'm so happy for them," she says. "Hopefully it's the start of a bigger movement."

Instead of waiting for lawmakers to mandate a smoke-free environment, Ms. Fujhara has taken matters into her own hands. She launched a campaign aimed at educating her staff and surgeons about the dangers of surgical smoke, even hanging signs above scrub sinks about the carcinogens found in surgical smoke. Ms. Fujhara also led the trial of several evacuation devices. She gathered samples of every smoke evacuator on the market and put the devices in a basket in the surgeons' lounge so the docs could familiarize themselves with the options and let her know which model they liked best. (It's no surprise they preferred one with an ergonomic feel and integrated pencil design that wouldn't impede their movements during surgery.)

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