FDA raises flags on surgical-fire risks

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Pointing to two horrifying incidents that recently focused public attention on the problem of surgical fires—both resulting in serious facial burns to patients—the FDA has released new publicity around its Preventing Surgical Fires initiative launched in October. 

An article on the agency’s Consumer Updates web page, “FDA and Partners Working to Prevent Surgical Fires,” points out that FDA is building a coalition of public and private healthcare organizations to work at reducing the risk of future operating room (OR) fires. A link leads to a list of some 18 participating groups, among them the American Society for Healthcare Engineering, the ECRI Institute and the Joint Commission.

There are approximately 550 to 650 surgical fires each year in the U.S., according to ECRI. The FDA defines a surgical fire as one that occurs in, on or around a patient undergoing a medical or surgical procedure.

The article told the story of patient advocate Cathy Reuter Lake, who launched SurgicalFire.org in 2002 after her 72-year-old mother sustained second- and third-degree burns to her head, neck and upper airway while on the operating table. She was sedated for seven weeks because of the pain and suffered multiple infections before her death two years later, FDA reported.

FDA recommended particular actions OR professionals can take to reduce the risk of surgical fires:

  • Carefully evaluate if the patient needs extra oxygen.
  • Prevent alcohol-based antiseptics from pooling during skin preparation.
  • Ensure that alcohol-based antiseptics applied to the skin are completely dry before draping the patient.
  • When not in use, place potential ignition sources (such as electrosurgical tools) in a holster and not on the patient or drapes.
  • Ensure good communication among all members of the surgical team.
  • Practice fire drills so that everyone is aware of roles and responsibilities in the event of a surgical fire.

Click here for the full article on the consumer page.

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