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Study of health care workers shows prevalence of surgical smoke exposure

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Chicago – Surgical smoke is a serious and preventable hazard that affects thousands of health care workers every year, according to a NIOSH study presented Nov. 3 at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting.

Despite known health risks, almost half of the respondents in a national survey reported they never received training about the hazards of surgical smoke, NIOSH states.

Surgical smoke exposure can lead to health problems such as eye, nose and throat irritation; emphysema; asthma; and chronic bronchitis. The smoke is a byproduct of surgery using a laser or electrosurgical unit, and it may contain toxic gases and vapors such as benzene, formaldehyde and viruses.

Experts advise using several ventilation techniques to reduce the risk posed by surgical smoke. However, about half of the survey respondents said local exhaust ventilation always was used during laser surgery, and 15 percent said LEV always was used during electrosurgery.

“It is important for employers and workers to understand the risks and take steps to put recommended controls into practice,” NIOSH epidemiologist and study author Andrea Steege said in a press release.