Medical oxygen

The air is normally 21% oxygen. Oxygen is not flammable, but fire needs it to burn. When more oxygen is present, any fire that starts will burn hotter and faster than usual. More oxygen in the air means that things such as hair, plastic, skin oils, clothing, and furniture can catch fire at lower temperatures.

Safety tips
  • There is no safe way to smoke in the home when oxygen is in use. A patient on oxygen should not smoke. 
  • Candles, matches, wood stoves and even sparking toys, can be ignition sources and should not be used in the home. 
  • Keep oxygen cylinders at least five feet from a heat source, open flames or electrical devices
  • See all of NFPA's safety tips on medical oxygen.
Facts and figures
During the four-year period of 2003-2006:
  • Hospital emergency rooms saw an estimated average of 1,190 thermal burns per year caused by ignitions associated with home medical oxygen.
  • Eighty-nine percent of the victims suffered facial burns.
  • In most cases, the fire department was not involved.

Source: NFPA's "Fires and Burns Involving Home Medical Oxygen" report by Marty Ahrens, August 2008.

Also see: Fact sheet on fires and burns involving home medical oxygen. (PDF, 44 KB)

NFPA's Lisa Braxton talks about how the use of portable medical oxygen in the home has grown during the past decade. Oxygen saturates fabric covered furniture, clothing, hair, and bedding, making it easier for a fire to start and spread. Here are some tips for the safe use of medical oxygen.

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Updated: 7/13

NFPA (National Fire Protection Association)
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