Surgical fires remain a potential hazard for hospital patients

As many as 650 surgical fires occur each year in U.S. medical facilities with some of them inflicting serious injuries such as first- and second-degree burns, disfigurement and death. There have been cases where patients went in for gall bladder surgery or routine mole removal only to discover that surgical room complications led to them sustaining severe burn injuries.

Such situations may be attributed to unpredictable incidents or simply due to carelessness by the surgical team. Regardless, such hazards must continue to be addressed and minimized. They really should not happen. When you enter an operating or clinical room, you expect to be in a safe place. Sadly, that is not always the case.

Safe use of medical equipment

But the U.S. government continues to review surgical fires in hopes of guaranteeing patient safety. In May, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provided new recommendations on how to reduce the risk of surgical fires. Some of the new guidelines specifically focus on the safe use of medical equipment and devices during surgeries.

According to the FDA, the majority of surgical fires take place in oxygen-enriched environments where oxygen concentration is more than 30 percent. In such an environment, materials that are not normally flammable may ignite and burn.

Three factors create fire hazards

The FDA notes that three factors usually combine to create fire hazards within a surgical environment. They include:

  • An oxidizer such as oxygen or nitrous oxide.
  • An ignition source such as an electrosurgical unit or a laser.
  • A fuel source, which includes surgical drapes, alcohol-based skin agents as well as the patient’s hair and skin.

Among the FDA recommendations

Surgical staffs must be knowledgeable and vigilant regarding the subject of surgical fires. The FDA has recommended increased training and awareness as well as:

  • Creating a fire risk assessment before each surgery.
  • Encouraging better communication with the surgical team.
  • Training on how to safely use medical devices that serve as potential ignition sources.
  • Planning and practicing how to control a surgical fire. This would include knowing how to properly use fire extinguishers near patients; having occasional fire drills; and implementing an evacuation procedure.

Safety must continue to be the focus in operating rooms. With surgeries, medical staffs have major tasks at hand, but they should not ignore any peripheral concerns such as the potential of a surgical fire. Patients should be able exit an operating room in an improved state from their original malady. When a surgical fire happens, the reverse is usually true.