Hospital Fire: An avoidable emergency

Published On: 22/12/2020


Safety and reliability of electrical networks in any building is vital. But in case of hospitals, it is even more critical. While most commercial facilities witness less or no human activity after closing hours, hospitals are bustling with people and activity 24X7. Even so, high-power medical machinery entail the need for uninterrupted high-voltage power at hospitals. To add to this, hospitals are home to patients undergoing treatments for critical ailments. In case of electrical fire accident, moving these patients becomes a formidable challenge. All these factors cumulatively make hospitals the most vulnerable place for electrical accidents which may prove fatal if not addressed in a right way at right time.

State of Electrical Safety in Hospitals in India

Poor electrical wiring and cabling

Power hungry electrical equipment such as,CT Scanners, MRI and X-Ray machines, Ventilators and other medical devices used in hospitals, need uninterrupted power supply. A durable cable network is thus absolutely essential to carry this power supply without overheating. However, hospitals in India are inclined to use low grade conductor wires in order to save costs, which results in overheating. To add to this, PVC insulation used in cables creates a lot of smoke in case of a fire incident. Statistics show that more people die due to smoke than due to actual fire in a fire incident. The ventilation system in a hospital also has a role to play in this scenario. If the hospital is air-conditioned, efficient mechanical ventilation system must be installed to stop electrical fires from spreading.

Faulty electrical installations in oxygen rich environment

Areas such as operation theaters and ICUs have high concentration of oxygen. Any electrical short circuit in these areas, could lead to electrical shock to surgeons or patients. In the worst cases, these electrical faults may result in sparks and could lead to fires. In order to achieve uninterrupted power, or for surge control, UPS systems are used which are supported by batteries. In many cases these batteries are installed in close proximity of the Medical equipment. These batteries often release harmful and flammable gases which adds to the threat of fire accidents. Hence, it is important to provide special attention to electrical wiring, earthing and switchboards installation.

Measures to check electrical issues in hospitals

Use dead-front type electrical panels and boards

A dead front panel is designed to ensure that the operator does not accidentally touch exposed electrical parts such as bus bars, connection points or circuit breakers. Live electrical parts are not exposed to the operator in a dead front panel. All panel boards and switchboards in the hospitals should be dead front type. Additionally, it is advisable to use circuit-breakers instead of switch-fuse units in switchboards. Only silent type, wall mounted switches should be used inside walls.

Wire your electrical networks right

Poor quality cables could lead to a serious fire incident in a hospital. It is vital that attention be paid to the wiring in the entire health facility. The global norm is to use ‘Low Smoke and Zero Halogen’ (LSOH) wiring. However, in India, Flame Retardant Low Smoke (FRLS) wires are used widely. Reports suggest that these wires may not necessarily help avoid fire incidents completely. One good measure is to connect all the signaling devices with Fire Survival Cables. Fire Survival Cables are designed to withstand high temperature for a certain amount of time. They reduce the threat of forming caustic acids and limit corrosion damage to equipment in case of fire incidents.

Pay attention to earthing

A common practice in Indian setups is to use separate earthing connections for all the electronic medical or non-medical equipment, but it is unjustified. If earthing is not done properly, it may damage the equipment or give electrical shocks to a surgeon or patients. All conductive metal in an equipotential area should be connected to a common equipotential earthing point with special heavy duty cable. This reduces the possibility of leakage currents that can cause micro-electrocution when the surgeon or patient comes into contact with the equipment.

Conclusion

Where healthcare is concerned, hospitals have always believed in the principle, “Prevention is better than cureâ€Â. If a similar approach is taken when it comes to electrical safety, it will immensely benefit the service quality and avoid any unprecedented incidents.

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