Suites in AHCO

Q: We recently had a surveyor tell us that suites are not allowed in ambulatory healthcare occupancies. Can you help explain this and any code references that support your opinion?

A: Well… that surveyor is mistaken. Suites are definitely permitted in ambulatory health care occupancies (AHCO). Sections 20/21.2.4.3 of the 2012 LSC specifically permit suites and says any site larger than 2500 square feet must have at least two exit access doors remotely located from each other.

The term ‘remotely located’ is defined by section 7.5.1.3.2 which says the two exits must be located at a distance from one another not less than one-half the length of the maximum overall diagonal dimension of the suite, measured in a straight line between the nearest edges of the exits. In a fully sprinklered building, section 7.5.1.3.3 says it is 1/3 the length of the maximum overall diagonal dimension of the suite.

There are no size limitations on suites in AHCO. And they are not prohibited in business occupancies either, even though there is no advantage to having them in business occupancies. I suggest you ask the surveyor (if he/she is still with you) to show you where in the LSC it prohibits suites in AHCO. I also suggest you ask your state and local authorities if they have any restrictions that would prohibit suites in AHCO.

Smoke Door Testing?

Q: The Joint Commission standard for annual door testing states “The hospital has written documentation of annual inspection and testing of door assemblies by individuals who can demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the operating components of the door being tested”. The Joint Commission also references NFPA 105 (smoke doors). Would this include all smoke barrier doors?

A: It appears you have an older copy of the Joint Commission standards. In January, 2019, the standard in which you refer has been changed to specifically identify the need to inspect and test fire door assemblies. Their note to this standard says nonrated doors including smoke barrier doors are not subject to the annual inspection and testing requirements of either NFPA 80 or NFPA 105.

It is the position of CMS and all accreditation organizations that non-rated doors in smoke barriers (barriers that separate smoke compartments) do not have to be inspected on an annual basis.

Here is why: Even though section 7.2.1.15.2 of the 2012 LSC says (in part) smoke door assemblies need to be tested, that conflicts with the occupancy chapter for healthcare. Section 4.4.2.3 says when specific requirements in the occupancy chapters differ from the general requirements contained in the core chapters, the occupancy chapter shall govern. Section 19.3.7.8 says doors in smoke barriers shall comply with section 8.5.4. Section 8.5.4.2 says where required by chapters 11 -43 doors in smoke barriers that are required to be smoke leakaged-rated, must comply with section 8.2.2.4 (which requires testing).

Chapters 18 & 19 (healthcare occupancies) do not require smoke doors to be smoke leakaged-rated: Therefore, smoke barrier doors do not have to be tested in healthcare occupancies. Now… you may have an AHJ that believes differently. You may show them this code trail and perhaps they will allow you to not test your smoke doors, but ultimately they are an authority and if they say you have to test smoke doors, then you have to test smoke doors. But it is not required in healthcare occupancies according to the 2012 LSC.

NFPA 99 Risk Assessment

Q: A question came up concerning the NFPA 99 (2012) Risk Assessment. Does this only pertain to new construction or does it pertain to existing buildings also? Our company has never had an assessment done in the past but it is my understanding that it became a requirement in 2016. The CMS has established compliance requirements (K Tag) for risk assessment and its completion. Who would be the qualified personnel to perform this procedure and create a formal and documented risk assessment?

A: According to members of the Technical Committee who wrote the new Chapter 4 in NFPA 99-2012, the original intent was the risk assessment only applies to new construction. However, the way chapter 4 is written, it is not clear that the risk assessment is only applicable to new construction.

CMS has instructed the accreditation organizations and the state agencies who survey on the behalf of CMS to require all hospitals to have completed their NFPA 99 risk assessment for new as well as existing construction. Therefore, hospitals must conduct the risk assessment for new and existing conditions. These assessments are not difficult to do and only takes a few minutes.

There is no requirement to make a room-by-room assessment, but the intent is to assess the risk of the entire system if it were to fail and there were no back-up systems. It would stand to reason that most hospital systems would be Category 1 or Category 2. Anyone may conduct the assessment, but would have to have knowledge of the risk assessment process and knowledge of the facility.

Blanket Warmers

Q: Is there a code for blanket warmers, towel warmers and such equipment that is used in a medical setting? Since they have a heating element would it be the same as having a space heater?

A: No… Portable space heaters are regulated by section 19.7.8 of the 2012 LSC. Blanket warmers are not regulated by the LSC.

However, blanket warmers are unofficially regulated by the accreditation organization and by CMS. While there are not specific standards that address blanket warmers, surveyors will expect the hospital to regulate their blanket warmers via their own policies. The hospital is expected to have a policy that sets the maximum temperature that the blankets may be. Usually, the maximum temp is set at 130 degrees F. Anything over that will likely be scrutinized by a surveyor.

Blanket warmers are considered medical equipment and must be included in the medical equipment inventory, and they must be maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Clinical Needs Locks

Q: For clinical needs locks, can occupants pass through four locked doors (patient room door, a cross-corridor door, another cross-corridor door, and a door at exit discharge) in a required single path of egress? (All options have 4 locked doors in the path.)

A: The 2012 Life Safety Code does not address any restrictions on how many doors in the path of egress may be equipped with Clinical Needs locks. Therefore, if the LSC does not prohibit it, then it is permitted.

However, not all AHJs permit it. For example; I am told that the IBC prohibits more than one Clinical Need lock in the path of egress (or, at least they used to). When I worked at the hospital, I tried to get the state to allow two locked doors in the path of egress from the Psychiatric unit but they would not allow it.

But in my travels, I have seen multiple doors in the path of egress equipped with Clinical Needs locks where permitted in various states around the country. The most common use of multiple Clinical Needs locks create a ‘Sally Port’ or ‘airlock’ that allows one locked door to open but the other locked door must be closed. This is an added security to prevent anyone from eloping.

So, the LSC does not prohibit it, but the IBC and some AHJs do.

Magnetic Locks

Q: Is there a code requirement for testing magnetic-locking devices, for a facility maintenance director?

A: There is a requirement in NFPA 72-2010, section 14.4.5 that all interface devices (i.e. relays, control modules) be tested once per year. Since the magnetic locks in access-control and delayed egress locks are connected to the fire alarm system via an interface relay, then the magnetic lock needs to be tested once per year to ensure it disconnects during a fire alarm signal. This test is required to be conducted by someone who is certified in accordance with NFPA 72.

If you are CMS certified or accredited by any of the major accreditation organizations then you would be expected to comply with the manufacturer’s recommendations on preventive maintenance. Most manufacturers of magnetic locks requires periodic maintenance to ensure they are functioning correctly.

GFCI Receptacles on Ice Machines

Q: We had our Joint Commission inspection today and they cited us for water coolers and ice machines not being plugged into GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) receptacles. One of our buildings was built in 1972 and the other was 2008. They cited NFPA 99-2012 Chapters 6 and 9, under EC 02.05.05 EP 8. Do you believe that was a correct finding? Thanks

A: Yes… that is a legitimate finding.

NFPA 99-2012, section 6.3.2.1 says the electrical installation must be in accordance with NFPA 70 National Electrical Code. Article 210.8(B) of NFPA 70-2011 says ground-fault circuit-interruption for personnel protection shall be provided as required in 210.8(A) through (C). The ground-fault circuit-interrupter shall be installed in a readily accessible location.

Sub-section (B) “Other Than Dwelling Units” says all 125-volt, single-phase, 15- and 20-ampere receptacles installed in the locations specified in 210.8(B)(1) through (8) shall have ground-fault circuit-interrupter protection for personnel:

(1) Bathrooms

(2) Kitchens

(3) Rooftops

(4) Outdoors

(5) Sinks — where receptacles are installed within 6 ft of the outside edge of the sink.

(6) Indoor wet locations

(7) Locker rooms with associated showering facilities

(8) Garages, service bays, and similar areas where electrical diagnostic equipment, electrical hand tools, or portable lighting equipment are to be used

So, item #6 ‘wet locations’ is the kicker on this issue. The AHJs are now interpreting anything that holds water to be a wet location, and therefore must have a GFCI receptacle. Another issue that you need to be aware of, is all GFCI receptacles need to be tested monthly. Ouch. More labor and documentation.

I don’t see where NFPA 99-2012 Chapter 9 (HVAC) applies in this issue, but it is a legitimate finding through chapter 6.

Which Edition of FGI?

Q: My understanding is we should be following the 2010 FGI Guidelines because that’s what is recognized by the 2012 LSC that was adopted by CMS. But I have read where CMS and Joint Commission would allow hospitals to comply with the most recent edition of the FGI Guidelines, which is the 2014 edition. To confuse the issue further, our state has adopted the 2010 FGI Guidelines. What this boils down to is Table 7-1 on ventilation and if we should follow the 2010 edition or a newer one. Is my understanding correct or are we to follow the latest FGI guideline?

A: For most hospitals, compliance with the FGI Guidelines is more of a suggestion, than a requirement. The FGI Guidelines are not standards, but are guidelines on how to design your facility. According to the Interpretive Guidelines for CMS Condition of Participation §482.41(c)(4), it is clear that the design of the hospital must be made in accordance with a select standard or guideline. CMS allows you to choose which standard or guideline you follow, and provides suggestions for temperature and ventilation as directed by AORN, FGI, CDC and the like. It is also expected that you would follow state or local regulations as well, even if they are more restrictive than the national regulations.

Once designed and constructed, the temperature and ventilation requirements do not change in your facility when a newer edition of a standard or guideline is adopted. If you designed your ORs to the 2010 edition of the FGI Guidelines, then you only have to comply with the requirements of the 2010 edition for the life of the building, or until you conduct major renovation. Your facility does not have to retroactively comply with newer editions of the FGI Guidelines.

If your state has adopted the 2010 edition of the FGI Guidelines, and they require compliance with that edition, then that is the edition you comply with, even though CMS would allow compliance with the 2014 edition. The state’s requirements are more restrictive than CMS’.

As far as I can see, the 2012 Life Safety Code does NOT reference any edition of the FGI Guidelines, but NFPA 99-2012 does reference the 2008 ASRAE 170 publication on ventilation, which is the basis for Table 7-1 in the FGI Guidelines.

Offsite Locations

Q: For clinics that are in a facility classified as business occupancy, is an ICRA required?

A: For Joint Commission accredited organizations, their hospital standards apply to all offsite locations that are considered hospital departments even if it is not classified as healthcare occupancy. For example, if a hospital has an offsite therapy unit in a local mall, the Environment of Care and Life Safety chapter requirements must apply to the offsite location, in accordance with the respective occupancy designation. This means, where the hospital is a healthcare occupancy, an offsite therapy unit would likely be a business occupancy, but the requirements found in the EC and LS chapters still apply at the therapy unit, but in accordance with business occupancy classification.

So, the requirement for an Infection Control Risk assessment (ICRA) is found in EC.02.06.05, EP 2 in the Hospital Accreditation Manual. The expectation is the hospital would conduct an ICRA at an offsite location when planning for construction as long as it is a hospital department. This concept of the Joint Commission standards applying at offsite locations is explained in the Overview to the EC and LS chapters.

New Forms on the ‘Tools’ Webpage

This is a special posting to let you know there are 6 new forms on the ‘Tools’ webpage for you to download for free:

  1. Advantages if the Building is Sprinklered – This form identifies all of the advantages that you can take  if your building is fully sprinklered.
  2. Building Tour by the Numbers – This form identifies many of the quantitative requirements for complying with the Life Safety Code.
  3. EC Document Review Form – This form identifies the documents you need to be compliant with The Joint Commission’s EC chapter.
  4. Fire Extinguisher Annual Maintenance Report – During the document review session, surveyors are often looking for documentation that identifies when the last 6-year inspection, or 12-year hydro test was conducted, and when the next one is due. This form helps you document that for each extinguisher.
  5. Cooking Hood Monthly Inspection – Did you know you are required to perform monthly inspections of the cooking hood fire suppression system? This form helps you document that.
  6. Sprinkler System Pressure Gauge Monthly inspection – All pressure gauges on the sprinkler system need to be inspected, and this form will track that for you.

Take a look at this re-defined webpage as there are over 35 forms and templates waiting for you to download… all at no cost.