TÜV Rheinland Blog - Insights from Asia and Africa

Electrical Hazards in Healthcare & Medical Facilities

Posted by TUV Rheinland on Apr 6, 2018 4:35:56 PM
TUV Rheinland

Hospitals are supposed to be a place of healing, an environment designed to make you feel safe and secure as soon as you enter. Yet the invisible electrical hazards in healthcare facilities have never been greater. The number of electric beds, automated blood pressure cuffs, scanning equipment, diagnostic instruments and other electrical equipment that employees use to diagnose and treat patients only increase the chance for incidents.

MRI-1.pngDid you know that patients are at even greater risk of electric shock than most people? The body’s barrier, skin, is usually compromised in the hospital environment, either due to injury or by design. Normal resistance to electric shock is intentionally lowered by adding conductive solution or electrode gel when connecting patients to medical electrical equipment (think of defibrillation pads, EKG pads, ultrasound equipment, patient monitors, and ventilators). And anaesthetised patients in surgery cannot protect themselves from electrical shock from high-frequency surgical equipment or medical lasers.


Electrical hazards in hospitals are not only limited to the problem of harmful electrical shocks. Lives actually hang in the balance between success and failure of electrical equipment. Fluctuations in output could affect the life-saving function of a piece of medical equipment. This is why medical and healthcare facilities must make safety a priority.

OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910 Subpart S - Electrical requires that every piece of electrical equipment used in the workplace be factory-certified or tested and labelled by a nationally-recognised testing laboratory (NRTL). However, there are multiple obstacles to following this standard, including lack of enforcement. The Joint Commission (formerly the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations) has never attempted to regulate the level of electrical certification in hospitals, instead leaving it to the individual facility to maintain safety-certified equipment. Thus, there is no consistently applied process for identifying whether electrical equipment carries proper safety certification.

Another complication facilities face in compliance is a general lack of education and awareness about product electrical safety, including confusion over:

  • Test Marks — A CE label and/or FDA approval is not the same as an electrical certification from a NRTL

  • Parameters for proper use/safety — Certified products can end up in environments that they were not designed to withstand

Oftentimes, safety is completely outside the control of the individual facility. Manufacturers sometimes care more about pushing sales than producing a product that is safety certified. Lab equipment in particular comes from all over the world, all with different engineering and production safety standards. Individuals in charge of equipment procurement at the medical facility may not know to check for a test mark. Many hospitals contract biomedical engineering services out to third-party providers who only test that a piece of equipment is running properly, not that it is electrically safe.

How can we ensure the safety of patients and employees alike? There are actually many steps that employees at medical and healthcare facilities can take to reduce the risk of electric. The best course of action is to work with a Nationally Recognised Testing Laboratory (NRTL) to ensure compliance and to certify electrical equipment for safe use.

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