I was recently a bystander amongst a discussion of healthcare facility industry experts, debating the NFPA requirements concerning the accessibility of medical gas shutoff valves in healthcare institutions. The original question asked was where does it specifically state that a medical gas zone valve box cannot have a wheeled obstruction in front it of it? While it is intuitive to keep the area in front of the shutoff valves clear, the question was a good one, as it appears the NFPA codes and standards do not specifically address the requirement to keep it clear.
The discussion that ensued was informative, as various standards were referenced as to support the opinion of the presenter. For example; Joint Commission standard EC.02.05.09, EP 3 says the valves must be accessible. But TJC does not define what ‘accessible’ means. According to the online dictionary, accessible is a place which is able to be reached or entered. So, if a wheeled gurney is placed in front of a medical gas shutoff valve, is it still accessible, if staff can reach over the gurney and actuate the valve? Or, is the shutoff valve still accessible if the gurney can be moved so staff can reach the valves?
The only one who can answer that question is the authority who is enforcing that standard, which is The Joint Commission in this case, but the other accreditation organizations have similar standards and they make their own interpretations as well. According to most of those in the discussion, Joint Commission and the other accreditation organizations are writing up hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers that have anything placed in front of the medical gas shutoff valves.
Another individual referenced NFPA 99, 1999 edition, which governs medical gas systems for healthcare institutions. Section 4-220.127.116.11 (i) which requires manual shutoff valves in boxes to be installed where they are visible and accessible at all times; the boxes should not be installed behind normally open or normally closed doors, or otherwise hidden from plain view. This description would seem to support the concept that the definition of accessible could include a wheeled object to be placed in front of the valves as long as the valves were accessible. At the least, it doesn’t seem to prohibit that.
But yet another individual said take a look at NFPA 99 (1999 edition), section 4-18.104.22.168 (d) on zone valves. For sake of clarity, I will repeat it here word-for-word (bold emphasis is mine):
Station outlets shall not be supplied directly from a riser unless a manual shutoff valve located in the same story is installed between the riser and the outlet with a wall intervening between the valve and the outlet. This valve shall be readily operable from a standing position in the corridor on the same floor it serves. Each lateral branch line serving patient rooms shall be provided with a shutoff valve that controls the flow of medical gas to the patient rooms. Zone valves shall be arranged that shutting off the supply of gas to one zone will not affect the supply of medical gas to the rest of the system. A pressure gauge shall be provided downstream of each zone valve.
The above description is found under a section titled “Zone Valve”. The bolded section in the above description refers to the requirement of a manual shutoff valve that is located on the same story which is readily operable from a standing position in the corridor. That’s not necessarily the zone valve, but why isn’t this description also included in section 4-22.214.171.124 (i) which describes shutoff valves? The 2012 edition of NFPA 99 further elaborates on ‘Zone Valves’ and describes them in the same way that most people think of shutoff valves.
According to the online dictionary, the word ‘readily’ means without difficulty or delay; easily or quickly. So section 4-126.96.36.199 (d) of NFPA 99 (1999 edition) makes it pretty clear that the manual shutoff valve for the room outlets must be operated easily, and without delay. Parking a wheeled gurney in front of a medical gas shutoff valve could easily delay the operation of the valve; or at the minimum, it would provide a hindrance to the operation of the valve. Therefore, the wheeled gurney (or any other object) would not be permitted to be placed in front of the medical gas shutoff valves.
I think the accreditation organizations have got this issue correct. Anything that blocks access to a medical gas shutoff valves (whether it is called a shutoff valve or a zone valve) hinders the ‘readily operable’ capability of the medical gas valves, and would be a citable offense.