August 22, 2018 | | Comments 2
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Conflagrations of unknown origin: Surgical fire prevention trends

Well, it appears that there remain opportunities for providing a fire-safe experience for surgical patients, at least based on the latest missive from the FDA. The safety communication (released at the end of May 2018) indicates that reports continue to be received by FDA of preventable surgical fires. I can’t think of too many circumstances—OK, none—in which a surgical fire could legitimately be considered unpreventable, though I have no doubt that you all have tales to tell of clinicians who feel that everything was done correctly and there was still a fire. I’d be interested in hearing some of those.

At any rate, the communication indicates several component strategies for appropriately managing the risk(s) associated with surgical fires—and if you guessed that a risk assessment figures into that equation, it may be that we have covered this ground before. So:

  • A fire risk assessment at the beginning of each surgical procedure
  • Encourage communication among surgical team members
  • Safe use and administration of oxidizers
  • Safe use of any devices that may serve as an ignition source
  • Safe use of surgical suite items that may serve as a fuel source
  • Plan and practice how to manage a surgical fire

I don’t think there’s anything that is particularly revelatory—these are by no means new expectations (for us or by us). It does appear that the FDA is going to be leaning on the various accreditation organizations (TJC, DNV, HFAP, CIHQ, AAAHC, etc., though TJC is the only organization specifically mentioned—aren’t they special!), so I think we may see yet another round of ratcheting things up in regards to surgical fire drills, providing education to clinicians, etc. I don’t know how much reaching out you might do relative to actual events in your surgical procedure areas (I can’t say that I always see a ton of information beyond fire drill and education documentation), but I think you’ll want to be able to speak to this as a proactive undertaking. Somebody must be monitoring these types of things and if it’s not you, you need to figure out who it is and keep yourself informed.

As something of a preemptory thought, I ran across a podcast entitled “Nurses for Health Environments” (you can find some background and links to the podcast here). I haven’t had a chance to check it out (I listen to podcasts as I work towards my 10K steps before breakfast, but I always seem to have a backlog of stuff to listen to), but I do believe that (particularly as a very large percentage of the healthcare culture) partnering with nurses and other clinicians in managing the environment makes a great deal of sense. Stewardship of the environment has to happen at every level of every organization, so I would urge you to check it out and maybe recommend it as a listening opportunity for the clinicians in your organization. I’ve always believed that marketing is an important piece of what we do as safety professionals and any (and every) insight into what folks are thinking about, etc., is worth consideration.

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Steve MacArthur About the Author: Steve MacArthur is a safety consultant with The Greeley Company in Danvers, Mass. He brings more than 30 years of healthcare management and consulting experience to his work with hospitals, physician offices, and ambulatory care facilities across the country. He is the author of HCPro's Hospital Safety Director's Handbook and is contributing editor for Briefings on Hospital Safety. Contact Steve at stevemacsafetyspace@gmail.com.

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  1. Recently it has been suggested that in addition to the communication of risk that has been assessed that the device and materials with solution on them must be removed from the room prior to draping. Have you heard of this extreme move? Thanks

  2. Hi Linda,

    I haven’t personally heard of that strategy, though it is certainly within the realm of possibility. I suppose it all comes down to the various risks involved, not the least being the point where fire risks and infection control risks tak4e adjoining paths. A lot of OR’s don’t allow much coming and going once a patient is prepped (it does take a little time for the HVAC systems rooms to readjust when the perimeter of the space is breached). I would think that removing the materials from the most oxygen-enriched portion of the space would probably be enough, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen any data that specifically addresses that. You certainly wouldn’t want to have a basin of alcohol-based surgical prep in the vicinity of an electrosurgical unit or other heat source (lasers, etc.), but I don’t know that you would have to go the complete removal route except in very specific circumstances (maybe the procedure room is very small, etc.)

    I hope this helps answer your (very good) question; it is important to make sure that any risk management strategy does not inadvertently increase other risks in the environment.

    Thanks.

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