A woman in Washington has been awarded $30 million after laser surgery at a local hospital left her unable to speak. According to a report in The Wenatchee World, the 55-year-old woman was in surgery and on a breathing tube in February 2012 when a fire occurred in her throat while she was having polyps removed from her vocal cords.
Operating room fires are rare compared to the number of annual surgeries in the U.S. According to "Operation Fire Safety" in the January/February 2012 issue of NFPA Journal®, the National Center for Health Statistics reported 22 million in-patient surgical procedures in the U.S. in 2009 and 50 million outpatient procedures in 2006. The FDA estimates that about 600 surgical fires occur annually, though the actual figure is likely higher.
Fires not resulting in death or serious injury tend to be underreported, since only about half of U.S. states are required to report "adverse events" at health care facilities. And while not all of those fires produce burns, the FDA points out that "some result in injury, disfigurement, or even death."
Fires during surgery have gotten the attention of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration , which regulates surgical components that might cause fires. Its "Preventing Surgical Fires Initiative" educates health care professionals on the root causes of fires in operating rooms and highlights risk-reduction practices and safety procedures that match provisions in NFPA 99, Health Care Facilities, and NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®. Read the full article in NFPA Journal.
NFPA's Rich Bielen talks about the dangers of fires in a hospital operating room and how NFPA 99, Health Care Facilities Code can mitigating the frequency.