Brief laboratory report: surgical drape flammability.

Virginia Commonwealth University, Department of Nurse Anesthesia, USA.
AANA journal 11/2006; 74(5):352-4.
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Fires in the operating room continue to present a hazard to patients, at times with catastrophic and debilitating results. Recent data from closed claim files reveal oxygen, electrosurgical unit (ESU), and surgical drapes are common components of the fire triangle in the operating room. In this era of biotechnological sophistication, why are surgical drapes flammable? The purpose of this study was to test the flammability of different surgical drape materials and to determine the time to ignition using a bipolar ESU device in 21%, 35%, and 100% oxygen concentrations. Results show that regardless of oxygen concentration surgical drapes, when exposed to close contact with the ESU, are flammable. Time to ignition decreases with increasing concentrations of oxygen as expected. One of the surgical drapes tested was advertised to the hospital as nonflammable. Future research should focus on surgical drape materials and aim to reduce the flammability of such items in the operating room.

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    ABSTRACT: The aim of the study was to characterize the causes of operating room (OR) fires in otolaryngology. A questionnaire was designed to elicit the characteristics of OR fires experienced by otolaryngologists. The survey was advertised to 8523 members of the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. Three hundred forty-nine questionnaires were completed. Eighty-eight surgeons (25.2%) witnessed at least one OR fire in their career, 10 experienced 2 fires each, and 2 reported 5 fires each. Of 106 reported fires, details were available for 100. The most common ignition sources were an electrosurgical unit (59%), a laser (32%), and a light cord (7%). Twenty-seven percent of fires occurred during endoscopic airway surgery, 24% during oropharyngeal surgery, 23% during cutaneous or transcutaneous surgery of the head and neck, and 18% during tracheostomy; 7% were related to a light cord, and 1% was related to an anesthesia machine. Eighty-one percent of fires occurred while supplemental oxygen was in use. Common fuels included an endotracheal tube (31%), OR drapes/towels (18%), and flash fire (where no substrate burned) (11%). Less common fuels included alcohol-based preparation solution, gauze sponges, patient's hair or skin, electrosurgical unit with retrofitted insulation over the tip, tracheostomy tube, tonsil sponge, suction tubing, a cottonoid pledget, and a red rubber catheter. OR fire may occur in a wide variety of clinical settings; endoscopic airway surgery, oropharyngeal surgery, cutaneous surgery, and tracheostomy present the highest risk for otolaryngologists. Electrosurgical devices and lasers are the most likely to produce ignition.
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