Walking on Air and Falling Flat - the Tripping Hazards of Oxygen Tubing

Coiled oxygen tank tube on blue background

There are more than 1.5 million adults in the United States that use supplemental oxygen for respiratory disorders according to the American Thoracic Society.  All these patients receive medical care which exposes the healthcare worker to hazards from oxygen tubing.  Slips, trips and falls are the second most frequent cause of injury to healthcare workers.  From 2015 to 2017 at The MEMIC Group alone, they incurred costs of more than $105 million.  Injuries from falls can be career enders.  Many of these injuries are caused by tripping over objects like oxygen tubing.

Oxygen tubing is usually transparent, so it blends in with the background.  While this is aesthetically pleasing to the oxygen user, it causes great difficulty when visually recognizing a hazard.  Solutions include colored or striped tubing such as purple, green, yellow and blue.  Tubing can be marked at intervals using colored tape for easier viewing.  For use in the patient home, split wire covers in bright colors can increase visibility and reduce tube kinking, crushing and punctures.  

Evaluating the length of the tubing is an important way to reduce the tripping hazard.  Patients may need a longer tubing during the day when they are active but can use a shorter tubing at night.  Less active patients may only need a short amount of tubing.  The oxygen delivery system should also be evaluated.  Some patients connect to centralized oxygen or need a large concentrator which is less mobile and requires longer tubing.  Other patients, however, may do well with portable oxygen tanks or portable concentrators that reduce the need for longer tubing.  Self-retracting (self-coiling) tubing is another option to eliminate leaving the tubing out across walking surfaces. 

Containment of any extra length of tubing requires constant diligence.  The tubing can be coiled and put into an oxygen tubing storage case or tucked into a similar style bag, but care must be taken to avoid kinking the line and decreasing the flow of oxygen.  Velcro strips or wire keepers can be used to loosely restrain tubing against a bed frame or along a wall.  Swivel connectors help avoid pulling and kinking of the line.   

So, while we wait for the industry specialists to create better oxygen delivery systems and better cord retracting technology, healthcare providers, families and patients must work together to keep our working area clear.  This will help us all breathe a little easier.

MEMIC policyholders have free access to our healthcare safety resources including a video entitled “Slips, Trips and Falls in Healthcare” (#4885) in the Video Lending Library and multiple resources within the Safety Director as well as our partner site Business and Legal Resources (BLR) when you search “oxygen cylinder safety for healthcare workers.”

 Coiled oxygen tank tube on blue background

By Susan Diffenderfer