Toaster Ovens

Q: I was having a discussion regarding toaster ovens use in healthcare and the frequency of fires was a factor for not favoring them. We have a few on campus and my research finds nothing in our policies or elsewhere specifically banning them from use. I see the requirements in the LSC regarding residential vs. commercial equipment requirements but no equipment is listed along these lines as not allowed. Can you share your knowledge on this subject?

A: Toaster ovens are not prohibited… but they are considered a perceived risk by many (if not most) authorities because they can be set to 450 degrees and they will not automatically shut-off, and potentially set something on fire. Therefore, you need to decide if you want to permit them in your facility. If so, conduct a risk assessment that identifies mitigating actions to reduce the perceived risk of these devices. If not, then remove them from the building.

Cooking Ranges Open to the Corridor

Q: We have an assisted living and basic care units at our facility. We have 48 total units: 24 on the east side and 24 on the west side. On each wing we have an electric range that is open to the corridor. I have been here 4 years and never have seen them in use. Under the new 2012 Life Safety Code, will we have to put in a suppression system on the units, plus will interlocks have to be installed? Currently we just turn off the breaker to the units. We have microwave units mounted above the stove and they have exhaust fans on them. Can they stay or will we have to put in regular exhaust fans?

A: It depends on what the range is used for….

If you never use it to prepare meals for staff or residents, then the Life Safety Code refers to these devices as food warming devices, and section of the 2012 LSC says where residential cooking equipment is used for food warming or limited cooking, the equipment shall not be required to be protected in accordance with 9.2.3, and the presence of the equipment shall not require the area to be protected as a hazardous area. Section 9.2.3 is the requirement for commercial cooking equipment to be protected with NFPA 96 exhaust hood and fire suppression system.

If you do use these ranges for preparing meals for residents, then you must comply with the more restrictive requirements found in section

Residential Cooking Equipment

Q: What is the standard in hospitals regarding use of toasters or popcorn machines up in nursing units where patient care areas are located? Is there an issue or concern with use of these items in those areas?

A: This was not highly regulated, and some authorities got very uptight with this and did not permit such appliances to be used in patient care areas (and rightfully so… they produce a lot of heat, some smoke and vapor). But, section on the 2012 LSC did address this type of equipment and says where residential cooking equipment is used for food warming or limited cooking, the equipment is not required to be protected in accordance with NFPA 96 and the presence of the equipment shall not require the area to be a hazardous area. This is a new section of the 2012 LSC and one that should allow residential toasters and popcorn makers and microwave ovens and coffee pots in break rooms.

Compressed Flammable Gas

Q: Can we store compressed butane gas cylinders used for food-warming and heating in the kitchen or do they require special storage?

 A: NFPA 30 requires all flammable gases and liquids exceeding 1 gallon (aggregate total) must be stored in a proper fire rated cabinet, or in a hazardous room with 1-hour fire rated barriers. You are not allowed to store mixed substances, such as combustibles with flammable liquids and gasses. For quantities less than 1 gallon, they must be stored in their original container, or in a special safety can. Joint Commission does have a standard (EC.02.01.01) whereby they could cite you for having any flammable liquid or gas stored outside a fire rated cabinet regardless of the quantity.  

Occupational Therapy Cooking Equipment

physical-rehab-lab[1]A reader recently inquired about a residential style stove/oven used in their new hospital for occupational therapy patients. He wanted to know if this residential style stove was required to have a commercial-style exhaust hood, complete with fire suppression equipment. He also wanted to know if the room where the stove was located was required to have smoke detectors and a Class K fire extinguisher.

A residential style stove/oven that is used for occupational therapy purposes is not a cooking appliance; it is therapy equipment. As long as only rehab patients are using the stove and staff does not use the stove for their personal use, the case can be made to a surveyor or an inspector that the equipment is not cooking equipment, and is not subject to meeting the requirements of section 9.2.3 of the 2000 LSC for fire suppression.

Also, section of the 2000 LSC says domestic cooking equipment that is used for food-warming or limited cooking does not have to be equipped with the fire suppression equipment required by section 9.2.3. Typically, the only residential style stove/oven appliance found in a hospital is located in the rehab/therapy unit and is used for occupational therapy; not food preparation. Whatever a patient would be doing at the stove would be considered ‘limited cooking’.

Also, section 9.2.3 of the 2000 LSC references NFPA 96 Standard for Ventilation Control and Fire Protection of Commercial Cooking Operations (1998 edition), which is the standard for fire suppression for cooking hoods, only applies to commercial cooking equipment. A residential style stove/oven used for occupational therapy is not a piece of commercial cooking equipment, so based on that interpretation, NFPA 96 does not apply.

And, if those points don’t change the mind of an over-zealous surveyor, according to NFPA 96, fire suppression systems are not required in cooking appliances that do not produce grease laden vapors. The presumption is an occupational therapy patient would not be frying up a pound of bacon, or other food products that produce grease laden vapors. And if they are, then perhaps there should be some means to catch the grease laden vapors.

A Class K fire extinguisher would not be required to be mounted within 30 feet of the residential style stove/oven that is used for occupational therapy since it does not involve combustible cooking oils or fat. NFPA 10 (1998 edition) states Class K extinguishers are only required when there is a potential for fire from cooking oils and fats that are combustible. Again, the presumption is there would not be a deep fat fryer or other appliances that would use combustible cooking oils in the occupational therapy program.

There is no requirement for any smoke detectors in or around the room that contains the residential style stove/oven used for occupational therapy purposes. I would strongly suggest that there not be any detectors in this area, unless there are other reasons for them. Any smoke generated from burnt food may cause unwanted alarms.

I also suggested to the reader that he write up a risk assessment or a policy (or management plan) identifying the above points as evidence that their facility gave this some serious consideration, and have their Safety Committee review and approve it. If challenged by a surveyor, they could present their risk assessment, policy or management plan indicating that they’ve done their due diligence and the conclusion is the equipment does not have to comply with NFPA 96 for exhaust hood or fire suppression systems.

Portable Cooking Appliances

Q: We have portable little butane one burner stoves that dietary likes to use to cook one pan of something in the server area, but they also use it to cook omelets and other fancy things at events in the conference rooms and sometimes in the board room. When I look in the LSC it does talk about these little butane stoves – but only under assembly occupancy, nothing under healthcare. Does that mean we cannot use them at all?

A: You are correct when you say the healthcare occupancy chapters (18 & 19) of the 2000 edition of the LSC do not directly address this type of portable butane fuel-fired cooking appliance, but actually, the LSC does address this issue in a round-about way. Section defines a hazardous area as an area that poses a degree of hazard greater than that normal to the general occupancy of the building. The LSC gives an example of an area that uses heat producing appliances as a hazardous area. Section requires corridors to be separated from all other areas, so a hazardous area is not allowed to be open to the corridor, and section requires hazardous areas to be safe-guarded by a 1-hour fire barrier or an automatic sprinkler system. In an existing healthcare occupancy, I believe the LSC allows you to use the portable butane fuel-fired cooking dish in areas that are sprinklered, but it’s not permitted to use them in areas that are not sprinklered, unless the area is also protected by 1-hour fire rated construction, which would have to include a ¾ hour fire rated self-closing positive latching entrance door. As always, check with your local AHJ to see if they have an interpretation that would prevent the portable cooking devices from being used in this way.

Cooking Appliances in Staff Lounge

Q: Are toasters, toaster ovens, microwave ovens and coffee makers prohibited in a staff lounge? We have nursing units that want these appliances in their staff lounge but we want to know if they are prohibited before we allow them.

A: None of the appliances that you mentioned are specifically prohibited by the LSC but they are a source of ignition and must be assessed for risks. Generally speaking, toasters are well tolerated by AHJs and toast for the patients can be a great patient satisfier. However, toaster ovens are a different story. Unlike toasters, a toaster oven can be set for 450º and it will maintain that temperature indefinitely until it burns something. Coffee makers and microwave ovens are also well tolerated by authorities, although microwave ovens are more of a nuisance due to burnt food frequently found in them. Always check with your local authorities to see if they have any limitations, and submit your risk assessment on these appliances to your safety committee for their review and approval.