Existing Hazardous Rooms vs. New Construction

Q: Our original hospital was constructed in 1968, then we had an addition in 1992 and our newest addition completed in 2013. Do the hazardous rooms in our buildings that are all fully sprinklered have to be maintained as 1-hour fire-rated walls with 3/4-hour fire-rated doors, or can we maintained them to just resist the passage of smoke based on the “existing” chapter? I was told that anything constructed before the date the Life Safety Code was adopted is now considered existing conditions.

A: To answer your question, the new construction healthcare occupancy chapter 18 applies to all buildings designed, approved and constructed after July 5, 2016, which is the date that CMS adopted the 2012 life Safety Code. That means all conditions designed, approved and/or constructed on or before July 5, 2016 would comply (as a minimum) to the existing healthcare occupancy chapter 19.

However, there are other conditions that you need to be aware of. According to section 4.5.8 of the 2012 Life Safety Code, whenever a feature of life safety is required by the LSC, it must be maintained as such, unless the LSC changes and the feature is no longer required. This means, if at the time the hazardous room was constructed the walls needed to be 1-hour fire rated and the door ¾-hour fire rated and the room be sprinklered, then you must maintain it that way, even though the room may now qualify as existing conditions and the walls and door only need to be smoke resistant.

So, for new construction hazardous rooms, section 18.3.2.1 of the 2012 LSC requires the room to have 1-hour fire-rated protection which requires ¾-hour fire rated doors assemblies that self-close and positively latch. Section 18.3.5.1 also requires the room to be protected with sprinklers. You would build your new construction (or renovated existing) hazardous rooms to 1-hour fire-rated walls (which must extend from the floor to the deck) and have the door assemblies meet ¾-hour fire rating.

Understand, the hazardous rooms constructed in the 1968 building would qualify for the existing conditions healthcare occupancy chapter 19 today because they were constructed before July 5, 2016, and at the time of their construction the Life Safety Code had not yet been adopted by any national governmental or accreditation organization. But the hazardous rooms constructed in the 1992 addition would have been required to be 1-hour fire rated with a ¾-hour fire rated door, and be protected with sprinklers, because that is what was required for new construction in 1992 for hazardous rooms. Therefore, since 4.5.8 says once it is built, you have to maintain it, it must remain 1-hour fire rated walls with ¾-hour fire rated doors and be fully sprinklered, even though it was built before July 5, 2016. Yes, it qualifies for existing conditions under the 2012 LSC, but since it was built to new construction requirements, that is what you must maintain, until the LSC changes.

Now, some hospitals have older hazardous rooms that for one reason or another, were not constructed to 1-hour fire-rated construction and protected with sprinklers, although they were supposed to. This was likely an oversight at the time of the construction by the AHJ or perhaps the hospital constructed the room without the AHJ’s knowledge or permission. When these old mistakes are caught, many authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) are actually requiring the hospital to upgrade their old hazardous rooms to 1-hour fire-rated construction and meet new construction requirements. Their logic is, that is what was required back when the hazardous room was constructed, so it is being enforced now. Right or wrong, they have the authority to enforce that onto the hospital.

Clean Utility Rooms

Q: What is the guidance on clean utility rooms and door closers? Under 50 square feet no closer is required, but over 50 square feet a closer is required? Does the clean utility room being located inside a suite make any difference? The normal supplies in there could be considered combustible based on the NFPA definition.

A: You have the 50-square foot limit correct, but it does not matter if the clean utility room is located in a suite or not. It still must meet section 18/19.3.2.1 for hazardous areas. If it is a new clean utility room, then it must be 1-hour fire-rated and be protected with sprinklers. However, the room may meet an exception found in section 43.7.1.2 (2), regarding rehabilitation. A change in use of a space in an existing healthcare occupancy does not have to meet new construction requirements for hazardous areas, provided the space does not exceed 250 square feet and the entire building is protected with sprinklers. But the space does have to meet the requirements for hazardous areas for existing conditions, which is 1-hour fire rated construction, or if the room is fully protected with sprinklers, then the door just needs to be self-closing and smoke resistant.

Strange Observations – Part 11

Continuing in a series of strange things that I have seen when consulting at hospitals…

This may be hard to see but there is an ‘Exit’ sign over the door at the end of this corridor. Storing combustibles in the corridor is creating a hazardous area and the path of egress may not enter a hazardous area to get to the exit.

This scene is probably familiar to many hospitals across the country, but you’ve got to take action to eliminate it before it becomes a tragedy.

Hazardous Area in Surgery

Q: Are clean cores for operating room suites considered hazardous thus required to be separated by a 1-hour fire-rated barriers? I have a client who was informed by their accreditation organization that their existing clean (sterile) core area needed to be upgraded to provide a 1-hour separation. The space is typically occupied and is larger than 100 square feet in a building fully protected by automatic sprinklers.

A: It depends… Is the hospital storing combustible supplies in the core area? If so, then the core area must meet the requirements for hazardous areas. Combustible supplies commonly found in core areas of Surgery are:

  • Paper-wrapped utensils that have been sterilized and waiting for use in surgery
  • Dressing, bandages, sutures, and medical equipment and supplies that are packaged in plastic, cardboard, chip-board, and paper
  • Other supplies that create a hazardous environment

The next issue is, does the hazardous area have to meet new construction requirements to be 1-hour fire rated and be fully sprinklered, or does the hazardous area qualify for the lesser requirements for existing conditions of being protected with 1-hour fire rated construction or smoke resistant construction and being fully sprinkelred? The answer to that question lies in which edition of the Life Safety Code was in effect at the time the core area was constructed or last renovated. If the core area was constructed or last renovated since the 1985 edition of the Life Safety Code was in effect, then yes, the core area is required to be protected with both 1-hour fire-rated construction and be fully sprinklered. (The 1985 edition was adopted by CMS, or the fore-runner of CMS, around January, 1988.) Subsequent editions of the Life Safety Code required new construction hazardous areas to be both 1-hour fire-rated protected and sprinklered. However, if the core area was constructed or last renovated before the 1985 edition of the Life Safety Code was in effect, then the core area is considered existing construction by today’s standards and qualifies for the existing conditions standards of being smoke resistant construction and fully sprinklered.

New vs. Existing Construction

Q: Our hospital facility was constructed under the new construction chapter 18 in 2000 Life Safety Code, but is now considered existing conditions under the 2012 Life Safety Code. We have a soiled linen room that is greater than 100 square feet, and is sprinkled, and the door needs to be replaced due to damage. Does the door still need to be a 45-minute fire-rated door assembly, now that the facility is in the existing category of chapter 19?

A: Yes, it does, because sections 4.5.8 and 4.6.12.1 of the 2012 LSC says once a feature of life safety is required by the LSC, you must maintain that for the life of the building unless the new construction requirements change and no longer require it. Also, section 4.6.12.2 says the existing feature of life safety cannot be removed where such feature is a requirement for new construction. So, you need to replace it with a properly rated fire door assembly for new construction. The reason there is an existing healthcare chapter that does not require a ¾ hour fire-rated door on a hazardous room, is it is for the older hospitals that built hazardous rooms when they were not required to be 1-hour fire rated. They are permitted to remain in use without having to meet the new construction requirements. But since your facility was constructed under the 2000 LSC that did require 1-hour fire rated hazardous rooms, you need to maintain that for the life of the building.

Hazardous Cart in Corridor

Q: I recently heard that a hospital was cited for leaving a construction cart unattended in the hall and the surveyor inventoried the entire cart and cited the hospital for each hazardous item present. Can they do this and is there a life safety code addressing this issue?

A: Yes they can do this, as they are an authority having jurisdiction. They get to interpret the Life Safety Code as they see fit. While this finding may seem to be “ticky-tacky” to you, the bottom line is the surveyor has the right to ensure your facility is safe for patients, staff and visitors. If there is an unattended cart containing sharp objects, toxic chemicals, flammable gases, etc., in the corridor where it is available to unauthorized individuals, then that really is a legitimate safety issue. You ask if this is a Life Safety Code violation, and I would say it can be considered a LSC violation, based on section 4.6.1.2 of the 2012 edition. Also, section 19.3.2 discusses hazardous areas, and technically speaking, an unattended cart containing these “hazardous items” is considered in storage, and therefore would have to meet the requirements of 19.3.2. All-in-all, it really is a legitimate finding, and the hospital needs to take action to prevent it from happening again in the future.

Paint Storage

Q: Is it okay to store latex paint in a mechanical/air handler room? The mechanical room is located in the hospital and is in a 2 hour fire rated wall enclosure.

A: This is an issue that is addressed by the Life Safety Code, but is not always enforced the same way by authorities.

Section 19.3.2.1.5 of the 2012 Life Safety Code specifically states “Paint shops” are hazardous areas. The interpretation by the AHJ would likely be that all paint needs to be stored in a hazardous room that meets the requirements of 19.3.2.1. So, from that perspective, the cans of latex paint would have to be stored in a hazardous room.

Now, can your AHU mechanical room qualify as a hazardous room? I believe it can, provided there is no fuel-fired equipment in the room, and it meets the requirements for hazardous room found in section 19.3.2.1. But not all AHJs actually interpret this section of the LSC in the same way. Some state and local AHJs do not like to see any storage in mechanical rooms, since the main purpose of the mechanical room is to house the air handling units. But since storage is at such a premium for hospitals, why not double up and allow storage in mechanical rooms provided it meets all of the code requirements?

As you may see, not all AHJs think this way, and you may encounter some resistance to this way of thinking.

Hazardous Areas

Q: Does section 19.3.2.1 of the 2012 Life Safety Code allow hazardous rooms to not be constructed with one-hour fire rated barriers if it is fully fire sprinklered? If healthcare oocupancies were considered new occupancies prior to the adoption of the 2012 Life Safety Code, are they now considered existing?

A: Section 19.3.2.1 of the 2012 LSC for existing healthcare occupancies says hazardous areas must be safeguarded by a fire barrier having a 1-hour fire rating, or it must be provided with an automatic sprinkler system. This is an ‘either/or’ issue. The hazardous room is either protected with 1-hour barriers, or it is protected with sprinklers. Section 19.3.2.3 says if the sprinkler option is used, then the hazardous area must be separated by smoke partitions. It is important to point out that this is for existing healthcare occupancies, and not for new healthcare occupancies.

Yes… If your facility was classified as a new healthcare occupancy last year under the 2000 LSC (i.e. prior to CMS adopting the new 2012 LSC on July 5, 2016), then it is classified as existing healthcare occupancy today under the 2012 LSC. However, this does not mean you can down-grade any feature of fire protection that was required under new occupancy requirements that is not required under existing occupancy requirements. Section 4.5.8 of the 2012 LSC says whenever any device, equipment, system, condition, arrangement, level of protection, is required for compliance with the LSC, such device, equipment, system, condition, arrangement, level of protection shall thereafter be maintained, unless the LSC exempts such maintenance. In other words: Once you are required to build something, you must maintain that for the life of the building, unless the new occupancy chapter no longer requires it.

So… If you built a new hazardous area last year and you constructed it to have 1-hour fire rated barriers, and it was protected with sprinklers because it was constructed under the new occupancy chapter requirements, you cannot down-grade the hazardous area to no longer have 1-hour fire rated barriers just because it is now classified as existing conditions. You must maintain that hazardous area under the new occupancy chapter requirements for the life of the building, or until the LSC no longer requires it for new conditions.

Hazardous Rooms of Different Options

Q: There appears to be many different ways a hazardous room is maintained: If it is sprinklered, does it have to be 1-hour rated? If it is existing construction, does it have to be sprinklered? What rules apply if there is a lay-in ceiling? What are the basic requirements for a hazardous room?

A: A hazardous room in a hospital includes a room larger than 50 square feet used for the storage of combustible supplies. How many combustible supplies are needed to make it a hazardous room? Not much, but it is a judgment call by the surveyor. If the room is designated ‘existing conditions’ (created prior to March 11, 2003) then there are two options on how it has to be maintained:

  • If there are no sprinklers in the room, then the walls need to be one-hour fire rated and extend from the floor to the deck above, and the door to the room needs to be ¾-hour fire rated, self-closing and positive latching.
  • If there are sprinklers in the room, then the walls only have to be smoke resistant, and extend from the floor to the ceiling, as long as the ceiling also resists the passage of smoke. The door to the room may be non-rated, but must be self-closing and positive latching.

If the room is designated ‘new conditions’ (created on or after March 11, 2003) then there is only one option for the room: The room must be sprinklered, and the walls must be one-hour fire rated and extend from the floor to the deck above, and the door must be ¾-hour fire rated, self-closing and positive latching. Also, if the supply room was originally constructed to ‘new conditions’, but before March 11, 2003, it cannot be down-graded to ‘existing conditions’, but must be maintained as ‘new conditions’. Any ceiling that has sprinklers or smoke detectors must be maintained to resist the passage of smoke. This is because smoke and heat will migrate above the ceiling if there are cracks, voids or missing tiles, and the detectors and sprinklers may not activate properly.

Kitchens as Hazardous Areas – Revisited

Q: You recently posted a question about whether or not hospital kitchens are hazardous areas. Your response noted that kitchens are not included in the list of 8 specific scenarios listed in 19.3.2.1. While that is true, 19.3.2.6 Cooking Facilities would seem to cover the hazards found in a kitchen (aside from the storage areas associated with a kitchen). 19.3.2.6 requires compliance with 9.2.3 which in turn references NFPA 96. It would seem that if the criteria of NFPA 96 is met, then it would not be necessary to define the kitchen itself as a hazardous area. Storage areas associated with a kitchen (particularly dry stores) would be hazardous areas. Am I overlooking something, or is a kitchen where the cooking facilities comply with NFPA 96 not a hazardous area?

A: We both agree that kitchens are not listed in the specific areas found under 18/19.3.2.1 of the 2000 Life Safety Code. I agree with you that 18/19.3.2.6 of the 2000 LSC requires cooking facilities (kitchens) to be protected in accordance with 9.2.3 of the 2000 LSC, which in turn requires compliance with NFPA 96, 1998 edition. NFPA 96, 1998 edition includes language that requires fire extinguishing systems in the exhaust hoods used in commercial kitchens.

Nowhere in 18/19.3.2.1, 18/19.3.2.6, 9.2.3, or NFPA 96 addresses whether or not kitchens are hazardous areas. It simply is not discussed, so there is no reference to draw on to say that kitchens are (or are not) hazardous areas. So, why do I believe they are hazardous areas? Take a look at section 3.3.13.2 in the 2000 LSC, which defines hazardous areas as: “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.” (Underline mine). I think we would all agree that cooking appliances are heat-producing appliances.

So, NFPA defines an area with heat producing appliances as a hazardous area, which applies to kitchens since they have heat-producing appliances. Going back to 19.3.2.1 in the 2000 LSC, it says any hazardous area shall be safeguarded, and it continues to describe how the hazardous area must be safeguarded. Section 18.3.2.1 of the 2000 LSC has a similar approach to safeguarding hazardous areas, but it takes into the account that all new or renovated areas must be sprinklered.   

So, from the NFPA definition of a hazardous area alone, it is apparent that kitchens are hazardous areas, and according to 18/19.3.2.1 they have to be safeguarded. To address your question directly; there is no language in the 2000 Life Safety Code that says if kitchens comply with NFPA 96, they are not considered hazardous areas. I recently took this issue to the national authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) over hospitals and asked them directly if they considered kitchens to be a hazardous area solely based on the NFPA definition of hazardous areas according to the 2000 LSC, and here is what they said:

  • CMS:                          Yes, kitchens are hazardous areas
  • HFAP:                        Yes, kitchens are hazardous areas
  • DNV:                         Yes, kitchens are hazardous areas
  • Joint Commission:      No, kitchens are not hazardous areas

So, most of the national AHJs say kitchens are hazardous areas, but Joint Commission (the accreditor who accredits the most hospitals) says they are not. I remind you that hospitals have to comply with all of the AHJs standards and interpretations, so if a hospital is Joint Commission accredited and receives funds for Medicare & Medicaid services, then they must treat kitchens as hazardous areas because CMS says they are even though Joint Commission says they are not.

Now, the technical committee for NFPA 101 (Life Safety Code) understood this dilemma and decided to make a change. Take a look at section 18/19.3.2.5.5 of the 2012 LSC, which says: “Where cooking facilities are protected in accordance with 9.2.3, the presence of the cooking equipment shall not cause the room or space housing the equipment to be classified as a hazardous area with respect to the requirements of 18/19.3.2.1, and the room or space shall not be permitted to be open to the corridor.” So, when the 2012 edition of the LSC is finally adopted, this whole issue of “is a kitchen a hazardous area?” will finally be resolved and everyone will be on board with the same interpretation. Then, the LSC will agree with your point, that as long as kitchens comply with 9.2.3 and NFPA 96, they will not be have to be classified as hazardous areas.

Thanks for being a reader….