One of the latest medical breakthroughs to come out in recent years has been laser or electrosurgery, which allows doctors to cut into skin with unparalleled precision to separate unhealthy tissue from patients or stop blood vessels from bleeding. However, while performing potentially life-saving laser surgery, medical professionals may be exposed to smoke and inhale toxic gases and vapors. With the health of surgeons, nurses and other workers on the line, hospital and medical facility employers should ensure workers are safe in a contaminant-free work space using air filtration systems.
Health effects of laser surgery smoke and gases
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration said nearly 500,000 workers are in contact with smoke plumes during laser or electrosurgical procedures annually. What is contained in these smoke plumes are gases including benzene and formaldehyde as well as biological and microbial material, such as viruses.
“As such, they can produce upper respiratory irritation, and have in-vitro mutagenic potential,” OSHA said. “Although there has been no documented transmission of infectious disease through surgical smoke, the potential for generating infectious viral fragments, particularly following treatment of venereal warts, may exist.”
The smoke given off during laser surgery is associated with a number of health effects, such as upper respiratory tract irritation, especially if workers are exposed to high levels of these air impurities, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
Controlling the risk of plume exposure during laser surgery
While OSHA does not have standards associated with controlling the risk of laser/electrosurgery plume exposure, NIOSH states that employers could use ventilation techniques to reduce the amount of laser smoke from surgical procedures. Workers can employ a combination of general room and local exhaust ventilation, but they will have to implement more controls to remove contaminants effectively. NIOSH suggests using air filters to extract smoke from the workplace.
“A high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter or equivalent is recommended for trapping particulates,” NIOSH said. “Various filtering and cleaning processes also exist which remove or inactivate airborne gases and vapors.”
One air filtration solution that is regularly implemented to remove microbial material is the use of fume extractors. Placing extractor arms near laser surgery equipment will help ensure that these toxic gases and smoke do not enter the medical staff’s breathing space and affect their health.
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