Developers and manufacturers of medical devices and equipment pursue admirable goals: to reduce suffering and improve and extend human life. But they face numerous risks in pursuit of these goals, including the risk of destructive, costly, and life-threatening plastic fires.
Fortunately, plastic fire risk can be mitigated by taking preventive actions. As a first step, risk managers and safety personnel should identify how and where plastic fires can arise.
There are many types of materials collectively known as plastic. Medical plastic products are primarily made of thermoplastic materials, which offer safety and performance advantages. Thermoplastics can be reheated and remolded, steam sterilized, and recycled, among other benefits.1
While thermoplastics are central to medical product manufacturing, they also represent a fire risk. Manufacturing plastic and manufacturing with plastic both pose fire risks. High heat is needed as part of the chemical process — polymerization — that creates plastic. For manufacturers creating end products with plastic raw materials — such as plastic resin pellets used in injection molding — heat is also needed.
While flame retardant chemicals can be incorporated into plastic products, most plastics are highly combustible — and plastic fires can spread quickly and produce smoke with dangerous chemicals.2 Harmful vapors can also be released when manufacturing with plastics, even when fire is not present.3
When evaluating medical product manufacturing operations for plastic fire risk, consider focusing on the following four sources:
Once you’ve identified key sources of plastics fire risk, create, or update a comprehensive fire risk mitigation program. Here are four key steps to help reduce the risk of plastics fire:
Strong fire mitigation programs will help medical device manufacturers ensure their operations are not interrupted due to a plastic fire and resulting smoke and water damage.
3 https://www3.epa.gov/ttn/chief/ap42/ch04/final/c04s04.pdf; https://www.sentryair.com/plastic-fumes.htm
4 https://www.sonicaire.com/combustible-dust-in-the-plastics-industry/; https://www.sonicaire.com/combustible-dust-and-the-plastics-industry/; https://www.plasticsnews.com/perspective/nfpa-652-beyond-dust-hazard-analysis
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