October 16, 2019


Five core strategies to ensure fire safety in your healthcare facility:

Fire safety is one of the most high pressure and significant components of healthcare facility management. The reality is that there is no room for error; you must do everything in your power to keep your patients safe.

From 2007-2011, there were about 2,600 fires per year in nursing homes and 1,200 more in hospitals, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) found. Those fires led to 140 injuries per year and three deaths — along with nearly $18 million in annual property damage.

The people inside these facilities — unlike a shopping mall, school, or sporting arena — are often sick, disabled, or elderly.

Facility managers must therefore be vigilant in keeping their patients safe. Luckily, attention to detail and routine safety checks can help to keep fires under control or prevent them altogether.

1. Monitor Your Kitchens, Especially During Meal Prep Times

What’s the best way to prevent cooking equipment from causing fires in your healthcare facility?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offers a few basic tips:

  • Avoid grease fires by emptying appliances’ grease traps on a regular basis.
  • Store any flammable liquids, oils, or other items far away from cooking equipment.
  • Clean grills and grill ducts regularly to ensure that nothing that flammable can fall into cracks and gaps.
  • Check all electrical cords for frays or tears.
  • Keep portable fire extinguishers (including dry chemical extinguishers) close by and ensure that your staff knows how to operate them.

2. Routinely Check Electrical Outlets and Wires

Cooking fires, despite occurring often, are usually confined to a single appliance or room. The same can’t be said for fires caused by electrical malfunctions. 

Many fire departments recommend avoiding the use of extension cords whenever possible. Instead of relying on a cord to connect an appliance to an outlet, move the appliance or install a new outlet. Think of the extension cord as a temporary solution, not a permanent one.

Cords that do need to be used must be in good condition and need to be away from flammable materials. Do not run a cord through a window, wall, or doorway — and do not put it underneath a carpet or rug.

3. Never Let Smoking and Oxygen Mix

Smoking in healthcare facilities is never a good idea, but this is especially true in close proximity of oxygen-dispensing machines.

Urge your staff to smoke cigarettes far away from oxygen machines. Smokers should also use “deep, non-tip ashtrays” to ensure that stray burning cigarettes don’t mix with oxygen-enriched air.

4. Install Wet-Pipe Sprinkler Systems

About two out of every three healthcare facility fires in 2007-2011 had automatic extinguishers present, the NFPA found. The organization recommends wet-pipe sprinkler systems because they discharge water immediately as soon as the sprinkler detects the heat of a fire.

5. Train Your Staff to Operate and Inspect Portable Extinguishers

While automatic sprinklers and extinguishers are important, it’s better to combine these with manual, portable fire extinguishers. Your staff must know how to use these extinguishers when needed.

More importantly, the extinguishers should be inspected each month to ensure they’re in working order. Try this series of routine procedures to visually inspect fire extinguishers:

  • Are all extinguishers in the correct location?
  • Are they easy to get to? Is anything blocking or obstructing them from view?
  • Are any safety seals missing or broken?
  • Are any of the extinguishers damaged on the outside?
  • Are any of the nozzles leaking, corroded, or clogged?
  • Are pressure gauge readings in proper position?
  • Are the instructions easily seen and legible?
  • Are the extinguishers full? (Test by lifting and/or manually weighing).

If any extinguishers fail the monthly visual inspection, replace them immediately. In addition, be sure that you bring in a certified inspector to perform more in-depth annual maintenance.

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