Boyle's Machine - Safety Features of Modern Machines

Safety Features of Modern Machines

Based on experience gained from analysis of mishaps, the modern anaesthetic machine incorporates several safety devices, including:

  • an oxygen failure alarm (aka 'Oxygen Failure Warning Device' or OFWD). In older machines this was a pneumatic device called a Ritchie whistle which sounds when oxygen pressure is 38 psi descending. Newer machines have an electronic sensor.
  • Nitrous cut-off or oxygen failure protection device, OFPD: the flow of medical nitrous-oxide is dependent on oxygen pressure. This is done at the regulator level. In essence, the nitrous-oxide regulator is a 'slave' of the oxygen regulator. i.e., if oxygen pressure is lost then the other gases can not flow past their regulators.
  • hypoxic-mixture alarms (hypoxy guards or ratio controllers) to prevent gas mixtures which contain less than 21-25% oxygen being delivered to the patient. In modern machines it is impossible to deliver 100% nitrous oxide (or any hypoxic mixture) to the patient to breathe. Oxygen is automatically added to the fresh gas flow even if the anaesthetist should attempt to deliver 100% nitrous oxide. Ratio controllers usually operate on the pneumatic principle or are chain linked (link 25 system). Both are located on the rotameter assembly, unless electronically controlled.
  • ventilator alarms, which warn of low or high airway pressures.
  • interlocks between the vaporizers preventing inadvertent administration of more than one volatile agent concurrently
  • alarms on all the above physiological monitors
  • the Pin Index Safety System prevents cylinders being accidentally connected to the wrong yoke
  • the NIST (Non-Interchangeable Screw Thread) or Diameter Index Safety System, DISS system for pipeline gases, which prevents piped gases from the wall being accidentally connected to the wrong inlet on the machine
  • pipeline gas hoses have non-interchangeable Schrader valve connectors, which prevents hoses being accidentally plugged into the wrong wall socket

The functions of the machine should be checked at the beginning of every operating list in a "cockpit-drill". Machines and associated equipment must be maintained and serviced regularly.

Older machines may lack some of the safety features and refinements present on newer machines. However, they were designed to be operated without mains electricity, using compressed gas power for the ventilator and suction apparatus. Modern machines often have battery backup, but may fail when this becomes depleted.

The modern anaesthetic machine still retains all the key working principles of the Boyle's machine (a British Oxygen Company trade name) in honour of the British anaesthetist Henry Boyle. In India, however, the trade name 'Boyle' is registered with Boyle HealthCare Pvt. Ltd., Indore MP.

A two-person pre-use check (consisting of an anaesthetist and an operating department practitioner) of the anaesthetic machine is recommended before every single case and has been shown to decrease the risk of 24-hour severe postoperative morbidity and mortality. Various regulatory and professional bodies have formulated checklists for different countries. A free transparent reality simulation of the checklist recommended by the United States Food & Drug Administration is available from the Virtual Anesthesia Machine web site ( see below) after registration which is also free. Machines should be cleaned between cases as they are at considerable risk of contamination with pathogens.

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