Fire Marshall Regulations Reduce Use of Hospital Hand Sanitizers, Helping Spread Dangerous Bacteria

(p. A11) With the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer — often more effective and convenient than soap and water — it’s far easier to keep hands clean than clothing.

But the placement of alcohol-based hand sanitizer for health workers isn’t as convenient as it could be, reducing its use. The reason? In the early 2000s, fire marshals began requiring hospitals to remove or relocate dispensers because hand sanitizers contain at least 60 percent alcohol, making them flammable.

Fire codes now limit where they can be placed — a minimum distance from electrical outlets, for example — or how much can be kept on site.

Hand sanitizers are most often used in hallways, though greater use closer to patients (like immediately before or after touching a patient) could be more effective.

. . .

Although there have been fires in hospitals traced to alcohol-based hand sanitizer, they are rare. Across nearly 800 American health care facilities that used alcohol-based hand sanitizer, one study found, no fires had occurred. The World Health Organization puts the fire risk of hand sanitizers as “very low.”

For the full commentary, see:

Frakt, Austin. “Lab Coat Can Host Dangerous Bacteria.” The New York Times (Tuesday, April 30, 2019): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 29, 2019, and has the title “Why Your Doctor’s White Coat Can Be a Threat to Your Health.” The last two sentences quoted above, occur in the online, but not the print, version of the article.)

The the rarity of hand sanitizer hospital fires was documented in:

Boyce, John M., and Michele L. Pearson. “Low Frequency of Fires from Alcohol-Based Hand Rub Dispensers in Healthcare Facilities.” Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology 24, no. 8 (Aug. 2003): 618-19.

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