[Editorial Analysis] Felled by fire: On new-born deaths in Maharashtra hospital

Mains Paper 2: Health
Prelims level: National Disaster Management Authority
Mains level: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.


• The deadly fire that snuffed out the lives of 10 infants in the Bhandara District General Hospital in Maharashtra is a shocking reminder that safety norms in several medical facilities in India do not pass muster.

• A review of Indian hospital fires published the Journal of Clinical Anesthesia identified higher oxygen availability in intensive care facilities as the likely primary cause, with motors and electrical units in the room providing the ignition, and plastics fuelling it.

About: challenge Vs solution:

• Intensive Care Units, neonatal ICUs and operating rooms are often the site of fires, implicating the presence of a high concentration of oxygen in a confined space.

• Oxygen monitors for hospital rooms, to ensure that the ambient level is within safe norms — set at a maximum of 23.5% by the U.S. National Fire Protection Association, could help avert an accident.

• Locating electrical equipment for air-conditioners with sparking potential away from oxygen saturated areas may also reduce the risk.

• It is essential that all new infrastructure conforms to rigorous safety standards, a small premium to stop such disasters.

• If the government sets the regulation bar high enough, ensuring full adherence to safety in its buildings, regulatory authorities can compel commercial structures to fall in line

• The Centre should also create a public platform for insights gained from inquiries into hospital fires to be shared and monitor.

Major Guidelines for Hospital Safety:

• The National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare Providers (NABH) made mandatory for all hospitals by the National Building Code and its specific norms for hospitals.

• Regulations as per National Building Code 2005: on ‘Fire and Life Safety’ covers the requirements for fire prevention & life safety in relation to fire and fire protection of buildings.

• National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) were given the responsibility to prepare guidelines for Hospital Safety and Preparedness to deal with on-site emergencies.

Institutional Mechanisms:

• Both Health and Disaster Management being state subjects are under 7th schedules of constitution.

• Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the Central Public Works Department and other licensing agencies at the Central or State levels act to implement guidelines for effective compliance.

• Health departments and state disaster management authorities, along with the state public works department, will play a crucial role in implementing these guidelines on the ground implementation.

• National Disaster Management Authority, the Bureau of Indian Standards, is ensuring Hospital Safety in our country.

Laws in India Governing Fire Safety and Governance:

• The National Building Code of India, 2016, is titled ‘Fire and Life Safety’. It covers the requirements for fire prevention, life safety in relation to fire and fire protection of buildings.

• The Model Building Byelaws, 2003: Point-specific responsibility for all fire-related clearance rests with the Chief Fire Officer.

Way forward:

• All Municipal Corporations with a population of more than one million (2001 census) must put in place a fire hazard response and mitigation plan for their respective jurisdictions guideline of 13th Finance commission recommendation.

• Both the governments at the centre and the state must have clear provisions in their safety legislation about the methodology and periodicity of such audits.

• A strong building code with features for reduction of fire hazards for all structures and especially for hospitals since they host people who are incapacitated and cannot be evacuated quickly.

• Hospitals should mandatorily hold regular safety and evacuation drills which are key to saving lives when disaster strikes.

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