The requirements for hospital lights are complex, but the last thing you expect is the lights burning patients undergoing surgery.

How Using the Wrong Hospital Lights Can be Dangerous

There’s no question that hospital lighting requirements are complex, and it’s crucial that they are met. Inhibited vision – caused by any number of lighting situations – can impede the precision with which thing have to be done in what might well be a life and death situation.

When you think of the dangers of incorrect hospital lights, direct injury to patients is not one of them. Yet, that’s exactly what happened in a hospital in Oregon.

What Happened to this Hospital and its Lights?

The hospital in question – Silverton Hospital, just east of Salem – actually burned their surgical patients with the lights over the operating tables in three operating rooms.

Over a period of 14 months, the hospital had 10 complaints of burns. The complaints came well after the surgeries occurred—logical, since the area of the patient’s body that would be exposed to the light would be bandaged for some time afterwards. It would be easy for a patient to assume that their burn was not actually a burn, but just part of the swelling, inflammation and so on that comes with the territory.

When the hospital started getting the complaints, they investigated everything they thought might be causing the problem: they listed those things in a recent article as “solutions used to prep skin before surgery, bandages or dressings used after surgery, and cautery devices used to stop bleeding during surgery.”* But it turned out none of those usual suspects were to blame.

Finally, someone remembered they’d seen ‘maintenance’ done on the lights. The maintenance in question wasn’t done by someone who knew the requirements of the specific types of lighting they had – it was done by the operating room staff.

So what’s the problem with hospital staff changing a light bulb? The answer: the type of lighting they had in the operating rooms was halogen.

The Problem with Halogen in Hospital Lights

Halogen is excellent lighting for some situations, but they emit ultra violet light—the same kind of light emitted from the sun itself. To use them as lights over an operating room, they definitely needed diffusers and filters.

Some halogen lamps have those diffusers and filters built right into the glass. But, in this case, they had to be installed separately. The OR staff who changed the lamps knew to change the diffusers, but not the filters.

Hence, the burns, for which the hospital is compensating its patients. In fact, they’re contacting other patients who were operated on in those rooms to make sure there are no others with problems. And if there are, they too will be compensated.

The hospital did a very smart thing – they changed their entire system to LED lamps, and they formulated a policy that only professional maintenance staff will perform such tasks in the future.

The takeaway: either use hospital lights that aren’t potentially going to burn patients, or make sure your maintenance people are trained and know exactly what they’re doing. Both is best.

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