Preventing Surgical Fires

Collaborating to Reduce Preventable Harm

Surgical fires are fires that occur in, on or around a patient who is undergoing a medical or surgical procedure. An estimated 550 to 650 surgical fires occur in the United States per year, some causing serious injury, disfigurement, and even death. Despite the fact that the root causes of surgical fires are well-understood, surgical fires still occur. Many healthcare organizations have developed tools, implemented strategies, and conducted education and outreach efforts to reduce the risk of fires. To supplement these efforts, FDA and its partners launched the “Preventing Surgical Fires” initiative to:

  • increase awareness of factors that contribute to surgical fires
  • disseminate surgical fire prevention tools
  • promote the adoption of risk reduction practices throughout the healthcare community

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There is a concern that an alcohol-based skin preparation, combined with the oxygen-enriched environment of an anesthetizing location, could ignite when exposed to a heat-producing device (such as a cautery) in an operating room.  If the patient is draped before the solution is completely dry, the alcohol vapors can become trapped under the surgical drapes and channeled to the surgical site.  It is recommended to allow these preparations to dry for a full three minutes.


Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation - Resources - Fire Safety Video (2).htm

US Department of Health and Senior Services. Preventing Surgical Fires Recommendations for Healthcare Professionals on Preventing Surgical Fires (2).htm