Locks on Electrical Panels

imagesCATTF4OXI am often asked if locks on electrical panels are required, or where in the world does it say in the Life Safety Code that we need to lock our electrical panels? Well, the quick and short answer, is: As far as I know, there is no direct NFPA standard or Life Safety Code reference that requires electrical panels to be locked. However, that does not mean hospitals cannot be cited for unlocked electrical circuit breaker panels, in some applications. In fact… If left unlocked, it most likely will draw the attention of a surveyor and may lead to a finding.

Section 4.6.1.2 of the 2000 edition of the LSC says any requirements that are essential for the safety of building occupants and that are not specifically provided for in the LSC can be determined by the AHJ. So, Joint Commission has determined that electric circuit breakers for critical equipment, that can be deactivated by unauthorized individuals is a safety risk, and if not addressed with either a lock or a risk assessment, most likely will be written up under EC.02.01.01., EP 1.

 

Joint Commission has addressed this in their FAQ’s found online at www.jointcommission.org under ‘Standards- FAQ’:

Environment of Care (CAMH / Hospitals)

Locking of Electrical Panels

Current | November 24, 2008

Q. Are electrical panels in patient areas required to be locked?

A. While there are no requirements for electrical panels to be locked, the organization should conduct a risk assessment. Generally, electrical panels in certain patient care areas, such as pediatrics, geriatrics and behavioral health units, or public spaces and corridors not under direct supervision should be assessed with consideration given to keeping them locked. Electrical panels located in secure areas that are accessible to authorized staff may not need to be locked.

If you’re looking for suggestions, I would recommend a risk assessment be made of any electrical panel that is not secure from unauthorized access, for two reasons:

  1. The risk assessment will provide the organization a clear course of action to take concerning locking the panels; and:
  2. The risk assessment will provide the organization with paperwork (documentation) that should protect them from any findings in the future.

I would also suggest that you walk your facility, locating those electrical panels that could be accessed by unauthorized individuals, or panels that are not directly supervised, and lock them. If they cannot be locked, or if you believe there is a sufficient safety reason why to not lock them, then write up a simple risk assessment evaluating them and run the assessment by your safety committee.

I will have a post coming up that discusses risk assessments and a sample risk assessment form to use as a template.

Electrical Appliances Not Located in the Patient Care Vicinity

I was recently asked how Joint Commission and other authorities look at  electrical items used by staff that do not come into contact with patients, such as refrigerators, fans, coffee pots and lamps.  Do hospitals have to remove all of these personal use appliances? The short and quick answer is No, but there are some things you need to be aware of.

When they do not have a direct standard which addresses the issue, Joint Commission will refer to NFPA 99 on the use and testing requirements for electrical equipment. They are permitted in the hospital, but they must be checked before they are placed into service. Take a look at section 7-5.2.2.1 of NFPA 99 (1999 edition) which says:

Patient Care Area: The leakage current for facility owned appliances (e.g. housekeeping or maintenance appliances) that are used in a patient care vicinity and are likely to contact the patient shall be measured. The leakage current shall be less than 500 microamperes. Tests shall be made with Switch A in Figure 7-5.1.3.5 in the open position for two-wire equipment that is not double-insulated. Household or office appliances not commonly equipped with grounding conductors in their power cords shall be permitted provided they are not located within the patient care vicinity. For example, electric typewriters, pencil sharpeners, and clocks at nurses’ stations, or electric clocks or TVs that are normally outside the patient care vicinity but might be in a patient’s room, shall not be required to have grounding conductors in their power cords.”

Note: Patient care vicinity is defined as a space for the examination and treatment of patients which extends 6 feet beyond the normal location of the bed, table, chair, treadmill, or other device that supports the patient during examination and treatment, and extends to 7 feet 6 inches above the floor.

As you may deduce, there is not a clear and simple standard that directly regulates electric appliances (such as lamps, refrigerators, fans and coffee pots) when they are not used in patient care vicinities. Here is what I believe Joint Commission and other authorities will expect from your organization in regards to electrical appliances that are away from the patient care vicinity:

1. Write into your Safety Management Plan (or it can be a separate policy referenced into your management plan) the organization’s plan of action concerning electrical devices that are not to be used within the patient care vicinity.

2. Upon initial installation (or before initial installation when the equipment is received at the hospital) conduct a current leakage test on the device, and document same. No further testing is required. If the device is removed and relocated, then a visual examination of the electrical cord needs to be conducted. No record of this visual examination is required.

3. Include language prohibiting the use of extension cords, power strips, adapters from 3-prong to 2-prong, and three-way adapters without the consent and permission of the Facilities department.

Having a policy on an issue when there is not a clear standard governing the issue, is an excellent way to demonstrate to the Joint Commission that you recognize the potential risk involved with the use of the device, and you have a plan to address it. If an electrical appliance shows up that doesn’t exactly fit into this policy, then conduct a risk assessment identifying all of the potential risks to patients, visitors and staff, and have it reviewed and approved by your safety committee.