Keeping Your Healing Environment Safe amongst the Tinsel and Trees

Updated on December 3, 2017

Know Your Holiday Decoration Policies

By Larry Lacombe, VP of Program Development & Facilities Compliance, Medxcel Facilities Management

The holidays are typically a time of year full of joy and cheer, and the twinkle lights, sparkly garland and ornaments seem to get most of us into the holiday spirit. However, holiday decorations do pose a severe fire threat if not properly controlled. If you are not careful, this joyous season could create hazards that impact the safety and compliance of your facility. 

For instance, what if the nurses decorating their wing have run out of hooks to hang stockings with each staff members name neatly printed on them along the wall.  But wait – there is a fire extinguisher with what appears to be a hook-like fixture.  Next thing you know, John’s stocking is hanging on the fire extinguisher temporarily until a more suitable hook can be found.  But the days and weeks pass, and a suitable hook still hasn’t been located – so John’s stocking continues to hang from the fire extinguisher, creating a hazard.  It may seem completely innocent and was intended to be very temporary; however, by doing this, now the patients, staff and visitors’ safety have been put at risk in the event there is a fire and a need for the fire extinguisher.

Reviewing your holiday decoration policies and communicating to staff of these policies is a great first step in ensuring your facility remains compliant during the holiday season.  Some of the decorations you wouldn’t think twice about putting up in your home may not be as suitable for the healing environment as you may think.  Do you know your healthcare facility’s policy on lights – can they be electric, or should they be battery powered?  What about trees – how tall can they be and what material can they be made out of?  Is it acceptable to put a wreath on the door to the OR? All of these answers plus a ton more are likely very detailed and included in your hospital policies.

According to the NFPA 101 2012 edition Life Safety Code sections and requirements, décor may not exceed 30 percent of the wall, ceiling and doors, in any room that is not protected by an approved, supervised automatic sprinkler system.  Read more on this sections’ provisions.

You should also just keep your eyes open when walking through the halls of your healthcare setting.  Do you notice any decorations that may potentially be a safety violation?  Note them and make sure to address them with your facilities team or another appropriate person in your facility.  Everyone who works in the healing environment, from administrators to RNs, is accountable for the safety of patients, visitors and other staff members. 

Celebrating the holidays can be fun, just make sure to follow your policies, correct any violations quickly and ensure your festivities don’t create any unnecessary hazards that compromise the safety of everyone in your facility. 


About the Author: Larry Lacombe is the Vice President of Program Development and Facilities Compliance at Medxcel Facilities Management, specializing in facilities management, safety, environment of care, emergency management and compliance.  Medxcel Facilities Management provides healthcare service support products and drives in-house capabilities, savings and efficiencies for healthcare organizations that, in turn, improve the overall healing environment for patients and staff.  LaCombe leads the development and implementation of compliance programs that ensures 24/7 survey readiness for a national network of hospitals that Medxcel Facilities Management serves.

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