In our last post, we began a discussion about the issue of surgical fires. When patients agree to be anesthetized for surgery, the last thing they expect upon waking up is to be horribly burned because of a fire that occurred in the operating room.
Some patients are not even fortunate enough to wake up, as the extent of their injuries may prove fatal. According to the FDA, an estimated 550 to 650 surgical fires occur each year. This type of medical negligence has injured patients in Cleveland and across the country.
Recognizing that these fires are preventable, the FDA wants to do something about this "persistent problem." Last October, the FDA Safety Initiative began an effort to educate health-care professionals about surgical fires, as well as how to prevent them. This week, the FDA will be hosting a webinar on the subject.
But how do these fires even occur in an operating room? Most fires of any kind need just three components: an ignition source, a fuel and an oxidizer. The FDA says that surgical lasers, cauterizing equipment and drills can easily provide the spark to ignite a fire.
Other surgical equipment like sponges and tracheal tubes act as the fuel. And finally, tanks of oxygen or nitrous oxide often prove to be the most dangerous element. They act as the oxidizer and escalate the fire quickly.
An expert in surgical fires notes that oxygen caused all four such incidents that he has investigated this year. He explains: "The high oxygen concentration [in an operating room] can cause that fine body hair to be extremely flammable - a ripple of flames that spreads across the skin, traveling at 10 feet per second. Oxygen makes other things a fuel."
There may be other factors present as well, but the bottom line is that surgical fires are preventable, and it is the responsibility of hospital staff to communicate and cooperate in order to prevent them and keep patients safe. Hopefully, the FDA's recent education and awareness efforts will prove beneficial.
Source: KYpost.com, "FDA focusing on patients catching fire in operating rooms," Aisling Swift, June 12, 2012