Guest post by George Mills, MBA, FASHE, CEM, CHFM, CHSP, director, Department of Engineering, The Joint Commission.
When the need for continued medical attention moves into the home care setting, fire prevention needs to be a priority and home care providers can be a key component of prevention. Through proper assessment of the patient’s living environment and education, home care providers have the opportunity to positively impact fire safety.
There are a number of areas home care providers should focus on with clients. Here are 10 ways to help prevent home care fires:
- Working smoke alarms must be maintained in the home. Be sure to explain that a smoke alarm primary function is to provide early notification of a fire. Smoke alarms should be tested monthly.
- A fire escape plan should be discussed and developed with the patient and their family, especially if the patient has limited mobility. Practice the plan annually.
- Many home care patients have difficulty walking and they tend to let things pile up near their chair or bed. Explain to patients and their caregivers that these piles can become a fuel source for potential fires.
- Make patients aware of potential ignition sources. Three main sources of risk for home fires are open flames from appliances, such as gas stoves, water heaters, space heaters and oxygen.
- Burning candles and smoking in the home are high risk situations. Patients and family members should be alerted to the danger of both, especially when oxygen is being used. Whenever possible, there should be a NO SMOKING policy in a home where oxygen is being used.
- Assure that the patient’s oxygen equipment is in good repair. Tubing and valves should be assessed regularly.
- The safe storage of medical oxygen is another safety concern. Oxygen cylinders should be stored upright, in a rack that is in a dry location. They should not be exposed to direct sunlight, where the surface temperature of the cylinder could exceed 130 degrees, nor should they be exposed to ice or snow.
- Patients should also be instructed that hand lotion, body oil or other items containing oil and grease easily ignite, and should not be used near oxygen.
- During oxygen use, there should be at least six inches of clearance around an oxygen concentrator at all times, the concentrator should be plugged directly into a wall outlet (limit the use of extension cords), and there should be at least 10 feet of clearance from any open flame.
- Space heaters in the home should not be near oxygen or flammable materials such as paper and blankets. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) nearly 75 percent of people are killed in home heating fires that involve space heaters.
The privilege of being able to assist patients in their homes carries great responsibility. Patients look to us to guide them through challenging circumstances. Many fire hazards are not realized until it is too late. With our guidance, patients can be kept safe and comfortable.