Maintain blanket warmers and educate staff on policies to avoid RFIs


August 24, 2017

Schedule regular maintenance of blanket warmers, update related policies, and ensure that nurses or other staff are documenting temperature checks and keeping those logs up to date. Educate staff on the policies as well as the appropriate storage related to warmers on patient floors.

Hospital compliance officers have reported blanket warmers as a regular target of Joint Commission surveyors over the last two years, and a check of CMS inspection reports shows repeated citations related to this equipment, which can pose a fire hazard and injure patients or staff if improperly used.

CMS reports highlight common problems

Hospitals nationwide have been subject to CMS citations centered on blanket warmers. A hospital in Oklahoma was cited under deficiency tags for patient safety and executive responsibilities for quality assurance and performance improvement for not adhering to hospital policy, which called for blanket warmers to be “inspected annually by Clinical Engineering to verify proper temperature settings and performance” and stated that “temperature will not be set higher than 130°F.” The last inspection documented for the blanket warmer in question was two years old, and CMS inspectors found that, while the temperature setting was at 150°F, the temperature reading was 210°F. In addition, “the hospital did not keep a temperature log for the blanket warmer.”

A hospital in Arizona was cited under a maintenance deficiency after a survey found problems with several pieces of equipment in an operating room, including a blanket warmer for which no preventive maintenance documentation could be found.

A hospital in Maryland was cited under infection control after a blanket warmer was found in the soiled linen storage.

A hospital in New York was cited under physical plant maintenance after CMS surveyors found three “recliner chairs and two blanket warmers were stored on and obstructing the corridor next to the exit door of the unit.”

Risk assessment advised

While The Joint Commission does not have a standard specifically addressing blanket warmers, in an FAQ it states that under Environment of Care standard EC.02.01.01 on managing safety risks, hospitals are encouraged to perform a risk assessment when setting a policy regarding temperature settings, and staff should be well versed in that policy.

Hospital accreditation officers who have recently gone through survey also point to EC.02.04.03, element of performance (EP) 3, which calls for inspecting, testing, and maintaining non-high-risk equipment.

The Joint Commission FAQ also notes that the equipment should be maintained according to manufacturer’s instructions or a schedule established as part of an alternative equipment maintenance program.

Do not set temperatures too high

When considering temperature settings, again review manufacturer’s instructions as part of your risk assessment. ECRI Institute, a Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania–based Patient Safety Organization that often works with The Joint Commission, recommends a maximum setting of 130°F to decrease the risk of burning a patient or staffer.

Also, caution staff members about overstuffing blanket warmers. Hospitals are required under EC.02.03.01 to manage fire risks, including under EP 1, which minimizes combustion products. Fires have resulted when blanket warmers are overloaded, hindering air circulation, fire safety experts have said.


Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Environment of Care Leader.

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