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Safety Information

Revised: 31 May 2017

The Use of Alcohol Based Skin Preparations in Operating Theatres

This safety information is to remind operating theatre staff of the potential flammability of alcohol based skin preparations.

Alcohol based skin preparations have been shown to significantly reduce the incidence of surgical wound infection. Where alcohol based skin preparations are used procedures must be in place to minimise danger to the patient.

Background: Patients have received burns following the use of an alcohol based skin preparation solution in theatre.

The following safety measures are recommended by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons:

  1. The addition of coloured dye to the skin preparation may assist in reducing the amount used and hence reduce run off.
  2. The quantity of the flammable skin preparation used to prepare the skin should be kept to a minimum in order to avoid run-off and pooling either on or around the patient. The amount of fluid in the bowl handed to the surgeon should be restricted and generally less than 100 ml.
  3. The size of the sponge/gauze applicator used for painting the skin should be assessed. Applicators which soak up large volumes of the skin preparation fluid should be avoided to minimise the risk of run-off and pooling.
  4. Any run-off that occurs should be removed before the drapes are applied.
  5. Time should be allowed for the alcohol to evaporate and disperse prior to applying the drapes.

Other issues to consider include the use of fire retardant drapes, fire retardant patient gowns and a gel fire blanket as part of the operating theatre safety equipment.

Hospitals are reminded to please report any accident involving flammable material in an operating theatre to Medsafe.

Healthcare professionals, patients, and carers lodging adverse event reports with Medsafe should use the joint Medsafe-TGA adverse event reporting form which is available for download from the link below:

www.medsafe.govt.nz/regulatory/DevicesNew/9AdverseEvent.asp

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