Problems with the CMS Categorical Waivers

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I have been receiving some feedback from friends and readers of the Keyes Life Safety Compliance website concerning the CMS categorical waivers. One of the issues seems to focus around whether a building is fully sprinklered or not.

The whole concept of what constitutes a fully sprinklered building seems to be different among various AHJs. Some want every square inch to be protected with water-based fire protection systems, and others will permit the exceptions found in NFPA 13. Here is how I see the issue:

Sections 18/19.3.5.1 in the 2000 LSC says new healthcare construction needs to be protected with automatic sprinkler systems in accordance with section 9.7. The exception to 18/19.3.5.1 allows for areas of buildings where the AHJ will not permit sprinklers, to be protected by ‘alternative protection measures’ (whatever that means) without the building being classified as nonsprinklered. This exception was inserted to account for those areas of the country where the local AHJ would not permit sprinklers in electrical rooms or elevator equipment rooms. The phrase ‘alternative protection measures’ means whatever the AHJ wants it to mean; from installing clean agent suppression systems (Halon, FM-200, CO2, etc.) to perhaps just a smoke or heat detection system. Or, it can mean something else.

Section 9.7.1.1 says where automatic sprinklers are required by the occupancy chapter, they must be in accordance with NFPA 13 (1999 edition). NFPA 13 has some exceptions where a building does not have to have sprinklers installed in certain areas and it still would qualify as ‘being protected with automatic sprinklers in accordance with NFPA 13’. Therefore, with the exceptions allowed by NFPA 13, I see the Life Safety Code as saying these buildings are protected with automatic sprinklers in accordance with NFPA 13.

The CMS categorical waivers on unoccupied openings in exit enclosures references the new 2012 LSC, section 7.1.3.2.1 (9)(c), which says existing openings in an exit enclosure are permitted as long as it meets multiple conditions, one of which being the building is protected with automatic sprinklers in accordance with section 9.7. There we are… back to 9.7, which references NFPA 13, which has some exceptions in certain buildings to not have sprinklers, but the building still has an ‘automatic sprinkler system in accordance with NFPA 13’. If the hospital implements any of these NFPA 13 exceptions then I would say it qualifies for the CMS categorical waiver. But technically, the hospital is not “fully sprinklered”, but would be considered protected with automatic sprinklers in accordance with section 18/19.3.5 and 9.7 of the 2000 LSC. The CMS S&C memo 13-58-LSC does not require a fully sprinklered building in order to qualify for the categorical waiver on the unoccupied openings to an exit enclosure. It only requires automatic sprinklers in accordance with section 9.7, which references NFPA 13.

But it never matters what I say; only what the AHJs say. If you have an AHJ that will not allow the CMS categorical waivers due to an approved NFPA 13 exception, then use the above logic as an argument that it should be allowed.

I also have some reports that certain state department of public health (DOH) do not recognize the CMS categorical waivers and will not permit them in the hospitals under their jurisdiction. That’s okay, as the state AHJs do not have to follow what CMS says, if they are assessing compliance with their own regulations and standards. Even if the state DOH is the official designated state survey agency for CMS, the most restrictive codes and regulations apply, and in this case the state regulations would take precedence of the CMS categorical waivers.

I hope this information is helpful…