Static Risk Management in Hospital with Humidity below 30%

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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%.
  3. 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.

Kind Regards,
Kevin Taylor
Territorial Manager, Biomedical Engineering
Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority

Hello Kevin,

The problem you presented is difficult to answer. In fact, there is a committee that is working on these issues in the ESD Association right now. It is working group WG29 on healthcare. There will be a virtual meeting on Monday Jan 25 at 11:45 am EST that you could join if you would like. To see the entire schedule and the link please go to www.esda.org , select events, virtual standards meeting and view the schedule.

There is also a standard in the IEC 61340-6-1 Electrostatic control for healthcare - General requirements for facilities that you can obtain through ANSI or directly from the IEC.

While the publication might be useful, it does recommend floors, shoes and materials that would be a major cost to install in an existing facility. If the control of static electricity in a specific area, such as on operating room is required, then download ANSI/ESD S20.20 from the ESD Association web site. Once there, the requirement for footwear/flooring system gives requirements that would help prevent shock. If implemented, there would be not shocks as everything should be grounded and the body voltage generation would be less than 100 volts. Much lower than a person could feel.

To find materials that meet these specifications I would recommend the buyer’s guide on the website also. There are suppliers that meet these requirements and also consultants that may be able to help you better than this forum.

I hope this helps and I know that I have not been to specific but if you have any further questions please feel free to post to this forum and hopefully others who have more experience will be able to help.

John