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FDA Warns Hospitals of Fire Threat in Mobile Medical Carts

The FDA says lithium or lead acid batteries in the mobile medical carts can overheat, catch fire or even explode, and has recorded 12 incidents since 2013.

By Eric Wicklund

- Federal officials are warning healthcare providers across the country that their mobile medical carts may be a fire hazard.

A letter issued on December 27 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says lithium and lead acid batteries used in crash carts, medication dispensing carts and other carts used for point-of-care services, barcode scanning and patient monitoring can overheat, produce dangerous smoke, catch fire or even explode.

“[The] FDA has received medical device reports of hospital fires and other health hazards associated with batteries used in mobile medical carts and their chargers,” the alert says. “These events, which range from smoke production and overheating to equipment fires and explosion, can occur with lithium, lead acid, and other types of batteries. Such hazards may result in equipment and facility damage, hospital evacuation or patient and staff injury.”

FDA officials said they received 12 reports of cart-related fires or other hazardous events between Jan. 3, 2013 and July 21, 2016. No injuries were reported, but one hospital was forced to evacuate patients and staff.

Lithium battery fires are especially dangerous, the agency said, because they’re hard to extinguish. In some cases, firefighters have had to bury the battery to put out the fire. Any incidents should be treated as a Class C electrical fire.

The FDA recommends that providers take the following preventive maintenance steps:

  • 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 away dust and lint around battery chargers and carts containing chargers;
  • Stop using batteries that do not charge properly and make sure batteries are replaced per manufacturer specifications;
  • Survey all battery charger locations and verify that chargers are placed in visible, fire retardant locations away from patient care areas and open sources of oxygen;
  • Avoid placing chargers or charging carts in confined spaces;
  • Store flammable and explosive objects away from battery chargers and charging carts; and
  • Request preventative maintenance documentation from the cart manufacturer.

Any healthcare providers experiencing problems with mobile cart batteries are urged to file a report through MedWatch, the FDA’s safety information and adverse event reporting program. That report should include a description of how the cart or battery charger was being used, any reported injurie, the damage caused, any cart or charger ID numbers and actions taken by the provider and the cart’s maker.

Further information can be found at the Division of Industry and Consumer Education (DICE) at [email protected], 800-638-2041 or 301-796-7100.

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