Editorial: Home use of medical oxygen on rise, so safety precautions needed

Mar. 24, 2013 @ 11:01 PM

There is more portable, medical oxygen being used in Tennessee homes than ever before. It is a critically important medical service to those who need it, but it also poses some risks. There are definite fire hazards associated with the use of oxygen, State Fire Marshal Julie Mix McPeak says.

Medical oxygen adds more oxygen to the air a patient uses to breathe. Fire needs oxygen to burn. If a fire should start in an oxygen-enriched area, the material burning will burn more quickly.

“When more oxygen is present, any fire that starts will burn hotter and faster than usual,” McPeak said. “It is crucial to follow safety precautions when medical oxygen is in use in a home.”

According to the National Fire Protection Association, hospital emergency rooms received an average of 1,190 thermal burn patients per year caused by home medical oxygen from 2003-2006. Nearly nine out of 10 of these victims suffered facial burns. Smoking materials were reported to be the heat source in approximately three in four cases. In the past five years in Tennessee, there have been 11 fire deaths where oxygen equipment was involved.

Oxygen saturates fabric-covered furniture, clothing, hair and bedding, making it easier for a fire to start and spread, McPeak said. Homes where medical oxygen is used need specific fire safety rules to protect people from fire and burns. Here are some safety tips:

  • There is no safe way to smoke in the home when oxygen is in use. Patients on oxygen should not smoke.
  • Candles, matches, wood stoves and even sparking toys can be ignition sources and should not be used in the home.
  • Keep oxygen cylinders at least 5 feet from heat sources, open flames or electrical devices.
  • Body oil, hand lotion and items containing oil and grease can easily ignite. Keep oil and grease away from where oxygen is in use.
  • Never use aerosol sprays — especially those whose cans indicate flammable contents — near the oxygen.

For more fire safety information, download the State Fire Marshal’s Office home fire safety checklist at http://tn.gov/commerce/sfm/fsk/documents/checklist.pdf.

Be careful out there.