The Perils of Plume

bright empty operating room in a hospital
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When we think of sterile, hygienically clean and safe spaces, an unused hospital operating room is one that may come to mind. Once a surgical procedure begins, however, that sterile space is changed to one that is filled with a myriad of potentially harmful biological and chemical agents. If any space needs a very high level of systematic controls to protect both health care workers and patients from the risk of exposure to these agents, the surgical operating room is it.

One of the more insidious biological and chemical agents that has developed into a health risk for surgical or operating room staff has been identified as surgical smoke, otherwise known as plume. Plume is created when a “hot surgical tool interacts with human tissue” as described in a recent article posted on Canadian Occupational Safety’s on-line magazine.

Click here to read the article.

As noted in the article, the incidence of health-related consequences due to exposure to plume is on the rise, as the number of related surgical procedures rises. The article explores the effectiveness of certain controls, such as smoke evacuation systems, and the ineffectiveness of other controls, such as surgical masks. Most importantly, the article reinforces the need for effective safety awareness training for all medical staff.

Perhaps our learning, the ‘take-away,’ from this particularly complex example of a biological and/or chemical hazard is that it too can be managed using the step-by-step approach of hazard recognition, risk assessment and controls.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Identify each of the following in the article:
    • What is the hazard (hazard recognition)?
    • What are the risks to specific health care workers?
    • What types of controls are effective?
  2. What are the impediments to installing effective controls in any hospital setting?
  3. As a Human Resources practitioner working in a hospital/health care setting, what steps will you take to communicate potential health care risks to hospital/health care staff?