Are Kitchens Really Hazardous Areas?

If you read my Q&A on kitchens being hazardous areas, which was posted last Sunday (July 8th), then you may have been surprised by my position that kitchens are considered hazardous areas in healthcare occupancies. I know many readers are and they were not in the least bit bashful to tell me so. Some flat out told me I was wrong.

The question that the reader asked was “Is the main kitchen in a hospital considered a hazardous area? I’m referring to the main kitchen where all the food is prepared for the hospital, not the kitchenettes that are located on the units.” This individual went on to say that her hospital kitchen was cited for not being protected as a hazardous area.

My reply was I believe kitchens are hazardous areas based on the NFPA definition of hazardous areas, found in section 3.3.13.2 of the 2000 edition of the LSC: “An area of a structure or building that poses a degree of hazard greater than that normal to the general occupancy of the building or structure, such as areas used for the storage or use of combustibles or flammables; toxic, noxious, or corrosive materials; or heat-producing appliances.” The last time I looked, kitchens have heat producing appliances, therefore kitchens are hazardous areas.

But that’s not the full picture. Section 4.4.2.2 of the LSC says: “Where specific requirements contained in chapters 11 through 42 differ from general requirements contained in chapters 1 through 10, the requirements of chapters 11 through 42 shall govern.” The definition of hazardous areas is found in Chapter 3. The provisions for healthcare are found in chapter 18 and 19, and as far as I can see, there is nothing in those chapters that differs with the definition of hazardous areas found in chapter 3. Therefore, there is no conflict (or difference) between these chapters. My point being, I cannot find anything in the healthcare chapters that would override the definition found in chapter 3. Therefore, the definition must stand on it’s own merit, and it applies to kitchens in the hospital.

Those individuals that protested my answer all cited the same reason: The NFPA technical committee on healthcare occupancies never wanted kitchens to be a hazardous area. In fact, I learned from one of them that prior to the 1985 edition of the LSC, kitchens were in fact identified in the occupancy chapters as a hazardous area, along with many of the current areas, such as boiler rooms, paint shops, repair shops, storage rooms (over 50 square feet containing combustibles) and the like. However, the technical committee preparing the 1985 edition decided to remove kitchens from the list of hazardous areas and require them to have fire suppression systems as defined by NFPA 96. But the list of hazardous areas found in the healthcare occupancy chapters was never intended to be all inclusive. It is representational, and furthermore, it stipulates all hazardous areas to comply with section 8.4, which requires 1-hour fire rated barriers, or sprinklers. Nothing in the healthcare occupancy chapters said kitchens were exempt from being considered hazardous areas. The technical committee may have meant that, but the LSC doesn’t say that.

If you were to call the NFPA liaison to the healthcare occupancy chapters for the LSC, and asked them if they considered kitchens to be hazardous areas, I’m sure they would say no. The NFPA has dealt with this issue and they firmly believe that kitchens are not hazardous areas. In fact, the technical committee went so far in the new 2012 edition to specifically say that kitchens that comply with NFPA 96 are NOT to be considered hazardous areas. But that language is not in the 2000 edition, which is the edition that most hospitals must comply with. Also, here’s one important fact that many of the objectors seemed to conveniently overlook: The NFPA only writes the LSC, they do not enforce the LSC. Basically (and I don’t mean to be rude when I say this), it doesn’t matter what the NFPA says, it only matters what the NFPA writes, and the 2000 edition of the LSC says areas with heat producing appliances are hazardous areas.

Authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) worth their salt must enforce what is written in the LSC, not what people (including me) says the LSC means. Even the opinions from life safety experts at NFPA are not what the AHJs should base their interpretation on, but only what the written code says. Otherwise, the code keeps getting interpreted differently depending on who you talk with. I did a poll of my contacts from the four major AHJs who enforce the LSC in hospitals and here is what I found out:

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) considers kitchens in hospitals to be hazardous areas. This interpretation is considered unofficial, as CMS rarely issues official interpretations, and when they do it takes months or years for them to issue one.

 

The Joint Commission does NOT consider kitchens as hazardous areas in hospitals. This is an official statement from their public relations department. It really does not surprise me that TJC feels this way as they have been known to “pick and choose” certain requirements of the NFPA codes to follow and not follow.

The American Osteopathic Association / Healthcare Facilities Accreditation Program (HFAP) officially considers kitchens in hospitals to be hazardous areas.

Det Norkse Veritas (DNV) officially considers kitchens in hospitals to be hazardous areas.

So, 3 of the top 4 AHJs who survey hospitals consider kitchens to be hazardous areas in hospitals. The 3 accreditors (TJC, HFAP and DNV) receives their authority to accredit hospitals from CMS and if one of them has a differing opinion (such as TJC) than CMS, that’s a conflict. Don’t look for this to become a big issue, however. Since the 2012 edition has already resolved this, and since CMS is seriously looking to adopt the 2012 edition, this conflict goes away once the finally do.