Exploding lithium-ion batteries and the devices they power grabbed a lot of headlines in 2016, triggering a multitude of safety alerts, warnings, and product recalls. But although most of the focus has been on hoverboards, electronic cigarettes, and Samsung smartphones, federal safety regulators recently added another item of concern: mobile medical carts.
On Dec. 27, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an advisory to health care professionals and administrators of hospitals and other medical facilities warning them about the safety risks associated with battery-powered mobile carts and workstations that monitor patients, scan barcodes, provide point of care workstations, dispense medications, and power colonoscopes, ultrasound machines, and anesthesia machines, to name a few functions.
The FDA said it has received reports of medical cart explosions, fires, overheating, and smoke incidents that prompted hospital evacuations. It is not clear whether the FDA knows of any injuries associated with these incidents, but the agency warns of the potential for personal injury the devices present.
According to the FDA, lithium-ion battery fires are intense and can be extremely difficult to extinguish. In several reports, firefighters have had to bury mobile medical cart batteries to extinguish a fire.
The FDA issued a list of preventative measures medical staff can take to reduce the chance of a mobile medical cart explosion or fire:
- Inspect batteries for signs of damage, including bulging, swelling, or cracks.
- Notify the manufacturer of damaged batteries.
- Inspect battery chargers and carts containing chargers for overheating components.
- Vacuum to remove dust and lint around battery chargers and carts containing chargers.
- Do not use batteries that do not charge properly. Ensure that batteries are replaced at the manufacturer recommended replacement intervals.
- Conduct a survey of battery charger locations, and verify that all chargers are located in easily visible, fire retardant locations away from patient care areas and open sources of oxygen.
- Do not install chargers or charging carts in confined spaces.
- Keep flammable and explosive objects away from battery chargers and charging carts.
- Request preventative maintenance documentation from the cart manufacturer for the health care facility to use.
The FDA offers additional information and recommendations for dealing with a mobile medical cart fire, reporting such incidents, and other guidance, which can be viewed on the FDA’s website.