Hospitals are advised to update fire safety measures and train staff in handling oxygen

All hospitals in the state should immediately update their fire safety measures and train all staff in the safe handling of oxygen, as the increased storage and handling of oxygen cylinders and the use of mechanical ventilators during COVID multiply the risk of hospital fires.

Already, two incidents of hospital fires have been reported at two COVID hospitals in Gujarat in the past two weeks, one as recent as Friday where at least 18 patients were killed. In both cases, the fire started in the ICUs.

“The fire is a huge risk during this pandemic, especially since there is a lot of renewal of oxygen cylinders in hospitals. Even a small spark generated when handling oxygen cylinders – like two cylinders rubbing against each other creating a minor spark – can start a fire. It is essential that those handling oxygen cylinders are well trained in safety protocols and follow them strictly at all times, ”says Rajeev Jayadevan, vice president of the research section of the Indian Medical Association.

The issue of increased fire risk during COVID and the need for hospitals to reassess fire safety precautions have been raised during recent internal discussions between hospitals, Dr Jayadevan added.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan also reported the problem on Saturday.

He warned all hospitals of the increased risk of fire due to the increased handling of oxygen cylinders and to ensure that their fire and safety measures were operational to prevent such incidents in Kerala.

He also asked the fire department to oversee safety measures in hospitals.

The increased use of mechanical ventilators during COVID can lead to increased oxygen levels in the hospital environment. Ventilation is a process in which supplemental oxygen is supplied under pressure to aid physical breathing.

But when there is an increase in ventilator use, such as during COVID, there is a risk of oxygen leaking from tubes, cans and masks, leading to an oxygen enriched environment inside. hospital wards / rooms.

Oxygen is not flammable, but it can cause other materials to ignite more easily and burn much faster.

The NHS, UK, in a directive sent to hospitals in March last year, warned of increased risks of combustion in hospitals due to the use of more ventilators to treat patients with COVID-19.

The guidelines advised hospitals to maximize their levels of air changes through “natural and mechanical ventilation” to reduce the risk of combustion.

Dr Jayadevan, who has taken extensive courses in fire safety and hospital drills, recommends that all hospitals conduct risk assessment drills and provide oxygen safety training to all staff. They should be educated about the potential hazards of oxygen combustion and how to handle oxygen cylinders and how to handle each piece of equipment with care to minimize oxygen leakage.

The rational use of oxygen should be practiced and it should be turned off when not in use. Electrical equipment, which is not in use, must be turned off, so that a parasitic spark does not lead to a fire in the oxygen-enriched environment, he said.