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.