More on Temporary Construction Barriers

I received an email from a reader who described a problem with their temporary construction barriers. He told me the following:

During construction and renovation projects our hospital uses drywall for temporary construction barrier walls. Our contractors are very ruff on these walls and constantly put holes in them. Our contractors have asked us if they could begin using fire retardant plywood for our temporary construction barrier walls for purposes of increased durability. Our infection control department did not have any issues with this. Would the use of fire retardant plywood be acceptable to with the Life Safety Code to use as temporary construction barrier walls in our hospital?

Non-Negative Air Barrier Web 2This is one of those issues that everyone does not agree on. Some authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) may permit it and some may not. But when offering advice on Life Safety Code compliance, one must consider what the actual language of the code and standards say, and any interpretations made by AHJs.

According to the NFPA codes and standards, fire resistant plywood is not an acceptable temporary barrier for construction. Take a look at 19.7.9.2 of the 2000 LSC which requires compliance with NFPA 241 (1996 edition) during construction. Section 2-2 says the following:

“Only noncombustible panels or flame-resistant tarpaulins or approved materials of equivalent fire-retardant characteristics shall be used.”

Fire resistant plywood is not noncombustible and it is not flame-resistant tarpaulins, so it does not qualify on that account. Now, section 2-2 does say “approved materials of equivalent fire-retardant characteristics” would be permissible. The fire-resistant plywood would seem to comply with this statement, but the key word is “approved”. The fire resistant plywood would have to be approved by all the AHJs that regulate the healthcare facility. That would be the following:

  • The federal government (CMS)
  • The accreditation organization (i.e. Joint Commission, HFAP, DNV)
  • The state AHJ on design and construction
  • The state fire marshal
  • The local fire inspector
  • The insurance company

Getting one of those AHJs to accept the fire resistant plywood as being acceptable is possible; but getting all of the AHJs to accept this, is improbable. Even if 5 of 6 AHJs accepted it, the organization would still have to comply with the lone AHJ who would not accept it.

Another consideration that is much less flexible in interpretation is section 19.1.6.3 of the 2000 LSC, which says:

“All interior walls and partitions in building of Type I and Type II construction shall be of noncombustible or limited combustible materials.”

Again, fire resistant plywood is neither noncombustible or limited combustible materials. Therefore, from this code section’s point of view, fire resistant plywood would not per permitted, even on a temporary basis, and even if it was ‘approved’ by an AHJ.

My advice to this individual is to stick with the steel studs and gypsum board temporary construction barriers because once the new 2012 LSC is adopted, the updated edition of NFPA 241 will require 1-hour fire rated temporary construction barriers (with 3/4 hour fire rated doors that self-close and positively latch) where the construction area is not protected with sprinklers; or NFPA 241 will require non-rated noncombustible (or limited combustible) temporary construction barriers where the construction area is protected with sprinklers. It is important to understand that the new NFPA 241 will no longer permit the flame retardant tarpaulins (i.e. flame retardant plastic visqueen).

I also suggest to this individual that he should find a way to impress upon the construction people that the temporary barriers must be properly maintained; or find construction people who will be glad to have your work and comply with your requirements.

Remember: Those construction people work for the hospital; not the other way around.