It is not uncommon for organizations to prohibit the use of micromobility devices such as electronic bikes, scooters and single-wheeled skateboards within hospital hallways and other facilities. In fact, organizations may even go as far to prohibit their use throughout an entire campus.
But as the popularity of these devices grows, it’s likely that staff and visitors are indeed using them to get to hospital campuses despite any bans that may be implemented.
Many facilities prohibit the operating of micromobility devices because of safety concerns; For instance, to eliminate people darting in and out of parking lot traffic or staff zooming from one patient to the next while leaving a trail of skid marks on the newly polished floor. But there is another real hazard that these devices present even when not in use and perhaps while stashed away under a desk or inside of a locker: electrical fires.
Lithium-ion batteries contained within these transportations can ignite, spark or even explode under the right conditions. Currently, no national or international statistics exist detailing how often these devices catch fire, but fire department reports show that it does seem to happen fairly regularly.
The Fire Department of the City of New York reported nearly 200 fires caused by micromobility devices in 2022. These fires have led to five deaths and over three dozen injuries.
While the batteries pose the highest risk during charging, it’s important to note that many of these fires have also happened while devices are in storage and not charging. These types of fires are typically due to the use of non-listed after-market batteries, or “souped-up” versions that give the rider a quicker trip from point A to point B.
Due to these factors, efforts to thwart their use may actually create a bigger risk. Just because users may learn to store these devices out of the sight of a compliance officer’s prying eyes, it doesn’t negate that a fire may be right around the corner.
Because there aren’t any codes or standards that give guidance on the proper storage and charging of these devices, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) says it has taken up the task of creating one. As that planning is still in the early stages, it has set up a micromobility safety webpage that is frequently updated to provide safety advice. Although the webpage is geared primarily toward consumer and residential applications, health care organizations will also find useful information to help keep their facilities safe.
Chad Beebe, AIA, CHFM, CFPS, CBO, FASHE, is deputy executive director of the American Society for Health Care Engineering.