Dear ESD Association Members:
I am the Biomedical Engineer for the Northwest Territories in Canada. Our tertiary care hospital in Yellowknife has had its humidity boiler break and it has been between -25 and -40 outside. Consequently, the humidity in our hospital has approached below 30% and in at a few times below 20%.
We have assessed the risk associated with static in our various environments. As I see it we have 3 primary risks we need to manage:
- Fire in High Oxygen Environments (Anaesthesia, ICU, etc.) – although I cannot find any published material on static generated fires in high oxygen healthcare environments, I believe this is a risk that needs to be recognized. At this point we are managing this risk through implementing protocols designed to manage surgical fires when operating near the airway with an electrosurgical device.
- Staff Reaction Risk – when someone gets a static shock they tend jerk, this poses a risk during sensitive procedures as well as moving or lifting items. Most Northern Canadian’s are pretty accustomed to getting shocks (taking on and off a down filled jacket, snow pants, etc. tends to harden you to it), so I think education and awareness can mitigate this. In addition, we have sufficient grounding mats and straps in Biomedical Engineering to further protect surgical staff during emergency procedures if the humidity drops below 20%.
- Device Failure – this is the trickiest one and where I definitely need your insights. I’ve reached out to vendors to get as much insight as possible especially for those devices that have operating RH of 20% to 30%. We have practical experience on some equipment (e.g., I have communities with health centres above the arctic circle which I know go to 0% humidity so all health technology device types in those health centres, from experience, can function safely or the risk is manageable) but we also have equipment that is life critical in the hospital. Again we have introduced anti-static mats and straps for when humidity drops below 30%.
So any recommendations on mitigating risk or additional risks you believe I have missed would be useful.
Territorial Manager, Biomedical Engineering
Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority