Besides outlets oriented upside down, you may have noticed red electrical outlets in many hospitals.
The red outlets are emergency outlets used in critical situations by hospital staff, such as when the regular outlets are unavailable during a power outage. They operate on backup power and are not for public use.
I will go into more detail below.
Red Outlets in Hospitals
Hospital red outlets are emergency outlets that operate on backup power, usually a power generator.
Hospital staff only use them in emergencies, especially when there’s a power outage, and to power life-support systems. They plug in devices such as telemetry monitors, defibrillators, and respirators. The staff might use them temporarily for other devices but would unplug them in an emergency and only use the red outlets for vital equipment.
Can You Use Them?
If you’re not a hospital staff member and only need, for instance, to charge your mobile phone, you should not use the red outlets.
The red outlets are not for public use anyway. They are only for emergency use by doctors and nurses, typically in hospitals and other medical facilities.
Requirements for Red Outlets
As per NEC 700.10(A), an outlet provided for use in emergencies must have a distinctive color or another marking on its cover plate. [Lipencott, 2012]
Hospitals choose to have their emergency outlets in red. The red color helps to identify them easily and to distinguish them from regular outlets that operate on the regular power supply.
If not colored red, they might have a red cover over them instead.
Another distinguishing feature of the red outlets is a green dot.
This marking indicates that the outlets are specially designed for hospital use, as red outlets are also used on some industrial sites. So a green dot shows the outlet is ‘hospital/medical grade.’
A red outlet qualifies as hospital grade if it can guarantee pure sine wave power, which is essential for sensitive medical equipment.
Furthermore, the rules specify that they are designated only for:
- Equipment requiring continuous power.
- Lifesaving equipment.
Why is the red outlet upside down?
Like other regular outlets, the red outlets are also typically installed upside down in hospitals for safety reasons. The main reason is to prevent a short circuit if a metallic object accidentally falls on top of one.
The red outlets rely on backup power, not the main power system powering the hospital.
The backup power is usually either an electricity generator or a battery backup. This power is reserved when uninterrupted power is required in critical situations. If a generator is used, it’s probably powered by propane, natural gas, or diesel.
The backup power normally kicks in automatically during a power outage or natural disaster but can also be used at other times. The hospital usually has UPS power to cover the time gap if it’s a manual system. Even the UPS is not consumer grade. It’s typically a double conversion type, which ensures immediate battery power engagement without even a millisecond delay.
- Lippincott. Lippincott’s fast facts for NCLEX-RN. Wolters Kluwer Health. 2012. Retrieved from https://www.google.com.pk/books/edition/Lippincott_s_Fast_Facts_for_NCLEX_RN/wxJ9V2D-YlYC?hl=en&gbpv=0
- A red receptacle used in hospital: https://www.lowes.com/pd/Legrand-Red-20-Amp-Duplex-Outlet-Hospital-Outlet/1001003792
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