Surgical Fire Safety Initiatives

February 8, 2017 | Evaluations & Guidance


Fires that ignite in or around a patient during surgery occur in only an extremely small percentage of the approximately 65 million surgical cases each year. Nevertheless, surgical fires continue to be a real danger, whether in an operating room (OR), a physician's office, or an outpatient clinic. Such fires are especially devastating if open oxygen sources are present during surgery of the head, face, neck, and upper chest. The consequences can be grave: Patients can be killed, staff can be injured, and critical equipment can be damaged.

Though surgical fires are rare, the actual number of incidents that occur annually may surprise many healthcare providers. Extrapolating from data published by the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority in 2012, we estimate that 200 to 240 fires occur in the United States each year, making the frequency of their occurrence comparable to that of other surgical mishaps such as wrong-site surgery or retained instruments (Clark and Bruley 2012; see Surgical Fire Data for additional discussion).

In recent years, the medical, healthcare risk management, and surgical communities have experienced a growing awareness of this continuing patient safety risk, along with realization of the need for an OR team approach to prevent surgical fires. And an increasing number of organizations are incorporating surgical fire safety into formal patient safety initiatives (AORN 2005, APSF 2010, ASA 2008, Mathias 2006). Such endeavors help to spread surgical fire prevention information and help...

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