According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), 31 percent of non-confined medical facility fires and 12 percent of all medical facility fires are the result of electrical failure or malfunction. In order to prevent injury and the destruction of expensive equipment, it’s important that all healthcare personnel (HCP) comply with electrical safety rules designed to increase patient safety. While preventing electrical problems is important, it’s also critical to understand what to do if an electrical problem occurs.
According to The Washington Office of the State Fire Marshal, the number one violation of fire codes in hospitals is electrical wiring and equipment problems. These include things like the use of extension cords in place of permanent wiring and piggy-backing power cords together. The misuse of electrical cords may seem like a minor violation, but it can cause major problems for the hospital. For instance, cords which run through doorways compromise fire safety, because the integrity of the cord is jeopardized if the door is shut on it. Running extension cords across the floor increases the likelihood of trips and falls which come with the risk of injury to patients or employees.
Linking multiple extension cords, also known as daisy-chains or piggy-backing, is another easily avoidable electrical problem that can cause huge risks. These risks include overloading the circuit and tripping the breaker causing an interruption in service. There is also an increased risk of arcing, shock, tripping and disconnection of equipment. Overloading has the potential to trip breakers and take down multiple outlets and pieces of equipment. A disruption in service is nothing to take lightly in a hospital situation where people’s lives are dependent on machines powered by electricity.
Obstructed electrical panels are also in the top 7 electrical violations of the fire code. Maintaining clear access to electrical panels allows staff to quickly restore electrical services in the event of a tripped breaker. It also allows power to be deactivated in case of emergency, reducing damage and limiting the spread of fire. Unobstructed access is not the only concern, however, as electrical panels are frequently mislabeled or unlabeled. In a healthcare environment, electrical panels can be very complicated, with hierarchies of circuits, essential system links to backup generators and multiple power sources. When new projects or problems require changes to the electrical system, unlabeled panels impede an employee or contractor’s ability to address and fix electrical issues.
The top 7 violations also include the use of non-GFI approved outlets, open junction boxes and portable heaters without tip-over switches. All portable heaters should have tip-over switches which turn the heater off, should it fall over. This is particularly important in a healthcare setting where there is an increased likelihood that a heater could come in contact with fabric (i.e., blankets) or paper packing materials, which can easily ignite.
All of the top 7 electrical fire code violations are easily remedied with employee training and periodic inspections. Correcting the issues will reduce the risk of injury, fire and loss of property.
Reptrax UniversityTM offers an Electrical Safety course designed to train HCP, including vendor representatives, on the importance of electrical safety for their own protection and the protection of patients. HCP will learn how take appropriate safety precautions when handling electrical equipment, how to prevent electric shock, and what to do if an electrical problem occurs. The training course also covers OSHA standards on work practices related to electrical safety.