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Operating room fires endanger patients

Of all of the dangers that patients have to worry about when they go into an operating room, an accidental fire shouldn't be one of them.

Unfortunately, operating rooms are exactly the right arena for fires to start -- they have heat, fuel and oxygen in abundance, and it only takes a moment of inattention when working with a laser tool or or a fiberoptic cable tip to start a fire. While the operating room is likely to sustain little damage, the same can't be said of the patient.

Although deaths aren't common as a result, there are as many as 650 fires in the operating room every year in the United States -- and some result in second- and third-degree burns to patients. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stated that it believes that these surgical fires are preventable with the right precautions:

-- Substitute water-based gels when possible for oil-based gels, and use water-based gels to coat a patient's hair and eyebrows, giving fire less to burn.

-- Minimize the use of antiseptics with an alcohol base and make sure that the patient's skin is dry before starting the operation. Try to prevent dripping and pooling at all times.

-- Remove any alcohol soaked swabs, excess drapes, towels or other loose flammable materials from the area immediately after use.

-- Only use supplemental oxygen when absolutely necessary. When it is in use, pay particular attention to fire hazards and try to use a closed delivery system like a laryngeal mask or trach tube.

-- If an open delivery system has to be used for supplemental oxygen, make sure that specialized draping techniques or incise drapes are used to prevent oxygen from building up.

-- Make sure that electric cauterization tools, laser scalpels and other sources of heat are always set down in their holster -- not on the patient or near the patient's drapes.

-- Make sure that saline and other fire retardant items are within reach in the operating room and every person knows where they are and how to use them.

Anyone who is injured in a surgical fire should consider consulting an attorney for advice. Surgical fires are errors that shouldn't happen. An attorney can help you seek fair compensation for your injuries.

Source: ECRI Institute, "The Patient is on Fire! A Surgical Fires Primer," accessed May 03, 2017

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