Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Chamber Safety
Hyperbaric safety is multifaceted. On the outside, Hyperbaric Oxygen therapy looks simple and not much to consider. You arrive for your treatment, go in the chamber, have your treatment while enjoying your favorite TV show, and then voila, you’re done. No big deal. But, au contraire!
At Hyperbaric Healing Treatment Center, prior to the chamber door even opening, there is a strict daily start up performed. The chamber is checked from front to back, top to bottom, and side to side making sure it is safe to operate. Items evaluated daily are; any leaks with the piping or hoses, the acrylic (what everyone calls the clear “glass” surrounding the chamber) in good condition, no nicks or scratches. The communication systems working properly, does the safety pin engage and disengage? If everything checks out good, the chamber is ready for you, the patient.
Once a week a very detailed test is performed on each chamber and its components, whether the chamber was used or not during that week.
Any item that is allowed in the chamber must be tested and approved prior to entering the chamber. One such item is the patient’s grounding strap. During treatment the patient wears a grounding strap (normally attached to the wrist), that is attached to a cord, that is plugged into the chamber. This is used to discharge any static electricity that may develop during the treatment. This prevents any type of ignition source in the chamber (spark from static electricity) which utilizes 100% oxygen which in fact could become a fire risk.
During the weekly check, the patient’s strap and cord are checked with an ohm meter to ensure it falls within normal limits to use. If the strap or cord are out of specifications (specs), they are discarded and replaced. The chamber is then checked to see that it falls within its specs and grounded properly to the building. There are a couple of locations on the chamber that are checked with the ohm meter as well. If the chamber grounding is out of specifications to the building or its ground attachment, the chamber is immediately taken out of service. From there, corrective measures must be made and approved by the Safety Director which will be documented prior to that chamber being placed back in service.
Some additional terms and facts to explain before continuing. The term ATA stands for Atmosphere Absolute which is equal to 760mmHg (millimeters of mercury) or 14.7psi (pounds per square inch). One (1) atmosphere is equal to sea level. Two (2) atmospheres is equal to 33 feet in salt water (FSW) or the equivalent of 34 feet in fresh water (FFW). PSI stands for pounds per square inch. This relates to the pressure being exerted on the body while under pressure. PSI is also used for the speed (rate) you travel to depth. Now that those fun facts are out of the way, that information may help explain our next set of tests.
The chamber itself is now ready to be tested. It is turned on and run to a depth of 2 ATA and gauges monitored and recorded. Any problem regarding proper PSI rate to depth such as to fast or to slow must be addressed and resolved. It’s like looking at your speedometer and it says your traveling at 50mph but you’re actually going 70mph. That could cause a problem if a patient needed time to clear their ears while traveling. The faster speed may be more than what their ears can handle, causing barotrauma, which is not good. The chamber is once again taken out of service until the problem is resolved. If the chamber passes the 2ATA test it is then run to its maximum depth of 3ATA (any idea on how many FSW that is?). At that depth the chamber is evaluated for any possible leaks from hoses, piping, chamber gaskets and the door seal. If the chamber passes the evaluation, then we perform an emergency ascent from 3ATA. The chamber must once again be in the manufacturer’s specifications to the proper time allotted to ascend from 3 ATA to the surface. Any issues with this test the chamber would be taken out of service until it has been repaired, documented and cleared by the Safety Director.
When visiting any center, don’t be afraid to ask them about their safety procedures. How often do they perform these tests? Do they utilize ground straps during your treatment? How old are your chambers and do they have a yearly maintenance performed by a certified technician familiar with those chambers? And for those over achievers, 3 ATA is equal to 66 FSW (68 FFW)! Happy Diving!!!