How to ensure Electrical Safety in Hospitals

By Ikyatha Yerasala

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Electrical hazards are more common than people may realise. Planning a hospital conscientiously to ensure electrical safety is crucial, writes Ikyatha Yerasala.

Electrical safety in the healthcare sector is a topic that needs to be talked about more often. In a hospital setup, electrical hazards are high to patients, visitors and staff and hence, it’s of utmost importance for the electrical plan to be made in such a way that accidents are avoided. When making the electrical plan, one must ensure that the equipment used don’t pose as danger to those around. Architects and hospital designers talk to Ikyatha Yerasala about how one must ensure electrical safety when designing a healthcare facility.

On-the-job electrical hazards are more common than people may realize, opines Raja Arjun, Founder, Office of Cognitive Design (OCD) and Director of Strategy, ACE Group Architects.Many workers are exposed to electrical energy while completing their daily responsibilities and many are unaware of the potential electrical hazards present in their work environment – making them more vulnerable to the danger of electrocution.”

Equipment used

Listing out the equipment used in a healthcare facility and how they need to be used to reduce hazards, Arjun shares, “Generators are used often in most facilities, most generators are powered by gasoline or diesel, which turn an alternator to produce electricity. These devices can be extremely dangerous if not used properly because they produce carbon monoxide – a colorless and odorless gas that can cause headaches, loss of consciousness and even death if inhaled. Never operate generators indoors. They should be placed outdoors in a location where the exhaust gases cannot enter a home or building. Good ventilation is key to operating a generator safely. Before refuelling generators, workers should turn them off and let them cool down. The ducting route, material of the ducting and solar power source is the pinnacle of innovation in this segment.”

Extension cords can cause on-the-job injuries if the cord is worn and its wires within become exposed. So Arjun adds, “Extension cords that are not three-wire type, are not designed for hard use or have been modified are not as durable and can increase the risk of electrical shock. To work safely with extension cords, only use equipment that has been approved by a nationally recognized testing laboratory, use cords equipped with strain relief devices and always unplug cords by pulling on the plug – not the cord. In avoidable circumstances, wire’s cable jackets have made significant improvements in recent times, even coming with a carbon fibre jacket / weave.”

Electrical equipment can show wear, which can cause insulation breaks, short-circuits and exposed wires. Also, if the equipment lacks ground-fault protection, it can cause a ground-fault that sends electrical currents through a worker’s body. To reduce this risk, Arjun says, “Use ground-fault circuit interrupters “on all 120-volt, single-phase, 15- and 20-ampere receptacles that are not on an existing building’s permanent wiring, or have an assured equipment grounding conductor program. Additionally, use double-insulated electrical tools, and be sure to visually inspect all equipment before use. If a tool has missing prongs, frayed cords or cracked casings, remove it from use.”

Fire hazards

As for fire hazards, fire is a building’s worst enemy, and time is a critical element, states Satish Kamble, GM – MEP Design, Hosmac India Pvt Ltd. “Combatting fire hazards and taking swift actions is a must. Like water, fire follows opportunity. Fire stopping equipment is especially important in hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare settings where occupants may have limited ability to evacuate the facility. Normally, electrical cables are just passed through wall or slab opening keeping surrounding opening as it is without any sealing which shall be main cause of smoke spread into the entire hospital. To avoid this; Fire Sealant is a substance used to block the passage of fluids through the surface or joints or openings in materials, a type of mechanical seal. Fire Sealants are designed to maintain the fireproofing of a wall or floor assembly allowing it to impede the spread of fire and smoke. We can also use Firestop Cable Collar, Firestop Block and Speed Sleeve Cp 653 in fire safety equipment.”

Talking about Flame Retardant Low Smoke (FRLS) cables, Satish adds, “They are manufactured using specially developed FRLS compound for sheathing, are resistant to ignition and flame propagation, and reduce smoke emission and release of acid fumes. They are intended for use in installations where vital circuits are required to continue operation in the event of the outbreak of fire.”

Isolation transformers are required for Operating Theater and ICU’s which are considered as wet locations. When isolation transformers are used in conjunction with medical grade equipment to connect this equipment to an AC power source, they provide the necessary isolation to protect the patient and staff coming in contact with the equipment. “We should consider separate earth pits for body earthing of medical equipments i) for Safety of Human life / Building /Equipment, ii) for overvoltage protection during lightning or surge conditions, iii) to provide stable platform for operation of sensitive electronic equipment i.e. to maintain the voltage at any part of an electrical system at a known value so as to prevent over current or excessive voltage on the appliances or equipment. Electrical Room is considered as 2 hours fire rated room for electrical safety and use of fire extinguishers like Dry Chemical Powder, CO2 is required to fight with electrical fire hazard,” he adds.

Using rubber mats with first-aid kit neat LT Panel to avoid electrocution is recommended. Apart from that, Satish reveals that the substation shall not be located immediately above or below plumbing water tanks or sewage treatment plant (STP) water tanks at the same location since water and electricity combines form fire triangle. “Also, one can use rubber mat with first aid kit near LT Panel to avoid electrocution. Sprinklers are avoided in electrical room, medical equipment room, server room & UPS room etc and only 6% of 440 volts voltage drop is permissible in the system from source of supply to end equipment . Also, while calculating cable size derating factor value is considered for electrical safety of cables.”

He also mentions how the building management system (BMS), a computer-based control system is installed in buildings that controls and monitors the building's electrical equipment and to monitor trip, On/OFF status of  electrical breakers to remote monitoring and immediate action. When it comes to cables, they are composed of different components that may become compromised if bent in too short distances and stress can be developed on the cable resulting cracks in the outer jacket. “Fire Suppression systems use our unique patented linear detection tubing which is installed throughout the Main LT panels and cableways. This tubing can not only quickly and accurately detect a fire but also suppress it before it can damage adjacent components. Lightning arresters are devices used to stop lightning from damaging electrical power systems. Lightning arresters catch surges in electrical wiring and divert them to grounding cables, which direct the current into the ground,” he shares.

Other generic points need to be kept in mind when designing a healthcare facility. “When doing electrical plan for hospital make sure CCTV camera points are given wherever necessary. Ensure alarms for staff members as emergencies are a part of everyday functioning in hospitals and ensure that all socket circuits are protected by a Residual Current Device (RCD). Have a recorded inspection and maintenance programme for all electrical equipment. Make sure the staff is well taught basic rules of using appliances. Keep television sets, telephones, radios, hair dryers, electric shavers, and all other electrical equipment and appliances away from bathtubs and washbasins,” says architect Maanasa Vinay.