Mac's Safety Space: Healthcare electrical fires – more to them than you might think

By Steve MacArthur, Hospital Safety Consultant

It may just be me (and trust me, it usually is), but there does seem to be a (moderately) recurring theme of electrical fires in hospitals this year ( ; ), which always me wonder if this is a “thing” (some thing? no thing?).

Interestingly enough (at least I thought so), fires in healthcare facilities is something upon which the good folks at NFPA keep an eye on (there’s a whole bunch of stuff: ). While the most recent collation of data was in 2017, there is some precedent from the electrical realm as far as fire causes (to no big surprise, cooking equipment is far and away the leading cause of fires in healthcare facilities). Electrical equipment accounts for about 6% for the period of 2011-2015, but fires related to electrical equipment accounted for 36% of the property damage (you can find the whole story, including a nifty fact sheet, here: )

In general, there are plenty of fire-related risks to be managed in pretty much every healthcare facility and, while there aren’t a ton of occurrences, fire prevention is an important consideration—one need look no further than Chapter 15 in NFPA 99-2012 Health Facilities Code if one is looking for a refresher on the important components— last, but certainly not least, being fire prevention in the surgical environment (there is some evidence that surveyors might be leaning rather ominously on the effectiveness of your education processes in surgery—there are annual requirements that might have languished over the past couple of years, particularly if you had a limited schedule for surgery).

Be that as it may, it probably makes sense to work with your electrical contractors to determine if there are any proactive measures that can be taken, particularly with the critical components of your essential electrical system. Also, as you’re planning your capital budgets over the next little while, it might be worth looking at fire suppression options for main electrical rooms, etc. We know that water can shift things in a not-so-good direction, but maybe a gaseous suppression system is just the ticket. At the end of the day, it’s about ensuring the continuity of operations.

About the Author: Steve MacArthur is a safety consultant with Chartis Clinical Quality Solutions (formerly known as The Greeley Company) in Danvers, Mass. He brings more than 30 years of healthcare management and consulting experience to his work with hospitals, physician offices, and ambulatory care facilities across the country. He is the author of HCPro's Hospital Safety Director's Handbook and is contributing editor for Healthcare Safety Leader. Contact Steve at