Colorado Governor Jared Polis has signed into law new legislation that will require licensed hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers to adopt and implement policies to prevent human exposure to surgical smoke. Surgical smoke results from thermal destruction of human tissue by heat producing devices such as lasers and electrocautery knives commonly used during surgery. The new law covers all planned surgical procedures likely to generate surgical smoke and becomes effective May 1, 2021.

Colorado follows Rhode Island in this legislative commitment to the protection and safety of perioperative nurses and their colleagues on the surgical team.

The Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN) spearheaded the law’s passage with the support of the Colorado Nurses Association and the Colorado Hospital Association. “After hearing from our nurses about the need for uniform evacuation procedures to eliminate surgical smoke in their operating rooms, lawmakers agreed to take this action to ensure smoke-free operating rooms for the state’s surgical teams,” said Amy Hader, AORN Director of Government Affairs, “Colorado’s early lead on this important issue will help the state attract and retain top surgical nursing talent for years to come.” ”

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), each year an estimated 500,000 workers, including surgeons, nurses, anesthesia professionals, and surgical technologists, are exposed to laser or electrosurgical smoke. This smoke plume can contain toxic gases and vapors such as benzene, hydrogen cyanide, and formaldehyde, bioaerosols, dead and live cellular material (including blood fragments), and viruses. Prolonged exposure – of the kind experienced by perioperative registered nurses – can lead to serious and life-threatening respiratory diseases.

A recent OR Today webinar covered the scientific evidence that documents surgical smoke as a health hazard and made recommendations to assist perioperative personnel in the adoption and implementation of establishing a safe work environment for all health care professionals who practice in settings where operative and invasive procedures are performed. Read more about surgical smoke risks in a previous OR Today cover story, “The Real Risks: Surgical Smoke“.