Surgical smoke, also known as diathermy plume, occurs during surgery and is produced through the use of surgical devices such as lasers, electrosurgical units, ultrasonic units, cautery units, and high-speed drills and burrs used to cut and dissect tissue. Surgical smoke contains a variety of toxic substances, including benzene and formaldehyde, which are recognised as being harmful to humans by the EU. There are also concerns that it may transmit infections, such as live viruses or bacteria.
Surgical smoke can cause direct harms from the particles it contains. It can cause irritation to the eyes, respiratory tract and skin of hospital operating room staff and has been linked to diseases including occupational asthma and chronic pulmonary conditions.
Some countries have clearer legislation than others to safeguard the health of employees. For example, Denmark was one of the first and few countries in the world to implement legislation applicable to surgical smoke, making it mandatory for employers to install extraction systems that remove smoke and other harmful substances as close as possible to the source. Further afield, in the United States, an increasing number of states have passed specific legislation requiring hospitals to use dedicated evacuation systems to tackle surgical smoke.
The mission of the Surgical Smoke Coalition is to minimise the risk of harm from exposure to surgical smoke, in particular with regard to healthcare professionals working in operating rooms.
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Current members of the Surgical Smoke Coalition
The Secretariat is run by Health First Europe