A "design for safety" solution to oxygen fire risks
Oxygen is one of the most commonly prescribed medicines and its use sustains and improves the quality of life for millions of people around the world. Its ubiquitous nature comes at a cost. Oxygen-rich environments significantly increase the risk of fire as they create an environment in which fires can easily ignite and burn quickly causing serious burns for patients and even loss of lives.
Most oxygen fires occur in the home, but they also occur in acute hospitals, community healthcare and social residential facilities. Patient safety can be placed at risk if due diligence is not applied when using medical oxygen and where medical oxygen has been exposed to heat sources or open flames such as lit cigarettes. These actions, either accidentally or deliberately, can lead to a fire in a clinical setting. Whilst fires in clinical settings may be less prevalent, the potential for harm is very much greater. Institutional facilities have many patients with chronic or acute conditions, who may be difficult to evacuate or protect in the event of a fire. If breached, medical gas pipelines have the potential to introduce vast quantities of oxygen to accelerate a fire.
Even a small increase in environmental oxygen levels from 21% to 27% will double the energy and intensity of a fire. With a gas pipeline breached and fire doors closed and creating a seal, the potential for a major fire is significantly increased.
Medical device regulations have long required risk reduction to be addressed in a clear hierarchical manner with ‘safety by design’ being the primary risk control. Regulations are clear that changing the instructions for use and/or labelling for a medical device does not change the degree of risk.
Firesafe™ technology represents a ‘design for safety’ solution to oxygen fire risks because it operates automatically if the oxygen tube becomes ignited. Fitted in the oxygen tube close to the patient, firebreaks stop the flow of oxygen, which extinguishes the fire in the oxygen tube.
This technology is also integrated into the Firesafe flowmeters. Firesafe nozzles fitted on the flowmeters ensure that any fire in the tube is prevented from reaching the medical gas pipeline.
Evidence from the UK, where firebreaks have been mandated for home oxygen since 2006, shows a very large reduction in deaths as a result of home oxygen fires when compared with the USA and Japan.
Appropriate ISO standards for oxygen devices now already include a requirement for oxygen firebreaks and many service providers globally are now fitting them as standard practice.