Fire risk in medical facilities is often greater than in other kinds of businesses because of the nature of the equipment used, the type of supplies that must be stored and the kind of waste produced. With proper care these risks can be reduced.
- Take steps to avoid a fire caused by cigarette smoking.
Most fires are caused by careless smoking. If you do allow smoking in any portion of your facility, make sure that the ashtrays you provide, are deep and don’t tip easily. When emptying ashtrays, be extra careful, as the embers left behind could easily ignite paper or other kinds of refuse. Having a metal container on the premises for this purpose is helpful. The best receptacles are the ones with a sand tray so cigarettes can be doused effectively from the moment they’re no longer in use. Obviously, smoking should never be allowed anywhere near where oxygen is being used.
- Ensure your workplace is wired appropriately and employees are trained to avoid electrical fires.
One of the greatest fire risks is overloaded power plugs. If you’re using more equipment in a room than the space’s electrical system allows for, upgrade the room’s wiring to suit that room’s purpose. Likewise all equipment should be inspected regularly for signs of wear or frayed wires. Cracked and split cords and plugs can also contribute to an electrical fire. The first thing to do in an electrical fire is to shut off the power. Make sure all your employees know where the main power shut off is located. Laminated instructions for how to shut the power should be mounted in that area.
- Make sure your facility is fully equipped to detect and manage a fire.
Preparation is key. Regular inspections of smoke detectors and fire alarms and extinguishers are a basic. An office armed with an overhead sprinkler system and safety blankets offers another level of protection. If you’re handling different kinds of materials, make sure you have the right kind of extinguishers on hand. A simple water extinguisher will work on a small paper, wood or cloth blaze but isn’t effective for fires involving flammable liquids, gases or oils. A foam extinguisher is a step up but that still won’t douse a fire being fueled by gas or electricity. A dry powder extinguisher is effective on everything but an oil-based fire and a top of the line carbon dioxide (CO2) extinguisher handles all but paper/wood and gas fires. To cover all your bases you’d be wise to have foam and dry powder extinguishers available and to make sure your staff knows which one to use in which situation.
- Prepare your facility and employees with an emergency fire plan.
Your office or facility should have an emergency fire plan and your employees should be trained on how to implement it. From knowing where smoke alarms and extinguishers are located to how to shut off oxygen machines and other compressed gas systems, fortune favors the prepared. If a fire gets out of hand, 911 should be called and precautions against smoke inhalation should be taken. Instruct your staff to close doors and to make sure any patients on the premises are far away from the hazardous area. In severe cases, crawling to an exit and using damp towels to cover mouths and noses can save lives.
While modern precautions have made fire a rare occurrence, the unexpected can still happen and it’s the responsibility of any medical clinic or facility to protect its patients and workers. Proper inspection of all fire safety equipment, and adequate training on how to use it, can make the difference between an annoyance and a catastrophe.