Kitchens as Hazardous Areas – Revisited

Q: You recently posted a question about whether or not hospital kitchens are hazardous areas. Your response noted that kitchens are not included in the list of 8 specific scenarios listed in While that is true, Cooking Facilities would seem to cover the hazards found in a kitchen (aside from the storage areas associated with a kitchen). requires compliance with 9.2.3 which in turn references NFPA 96. It would seem that if the criteria of NFPA 96 is met, then it would not be necessary to define the kitchen itself as a hazardous area. Storage areas associated with a kitchen (particularly dry stores) would be hazardous areas. Am I overlooking something, or is a kitchen where the cooking facilities comply with NFPA 96 not a hazardous area?

A: We both agree that kitchens are not listed in the specific areas found under 18/ of the 2000 Life Safety Code. I agree with you that 18/ of the 2000 LSC requires cooking facilities (kitchens) to be protected in accordance with 9.2.3 of the 2000 LSC, which in turn requires compliance with NFPA 96, 1998 edition. NFPA 96, 1998 edition includes language that requires fire extinguishing systems in the exhaust hoods used in commercial kitchens.

Nowhere in 18/, 18/, 9.2.3, or NFPA 96 addresses whether or not kitchens are hazardous areas. It simply is not discussed, so there is no reference to draw on to say that kitchens are (or are not) hazardous areas. So, why do I believe they are hazardous areas? Take a look at section in the 2000 LSC, which defines hazardous areas as: “An area of a structure or building that poses a degree of hazard greater than that normal to the general occupancy of the building or structure, such as areas used for the storage or use of combustibles or flammables; toxic, noxious, or corrosive materials; or heat-producing appliances.” (Underline mine). I think we would all agree that cooking appliances are heat-producing appliances.

So, NFPA defines an area with heat producing appliances as a hazardous area, which applies to kitchens since they have heat-producing appliances. Going back to in the 2000 LSC, it says any hazardous area shall be safeguarded, and it continues to describe how the hazardous area must be safeguarded. Section of the 2000 LSC has a similar approach to safeguarding hazardous areas, but it takes into the account that all new or renovated areas must be sprinklered.   

So, from the NFPA definition of a hazardous area alone, it is apparent that kitchens are hazardous areas, and according to 18/ they have to be safeguarded. To address your question directly; there is no language in the 2000 Life Safety Code that says if kitchens comply with NFPA 96, they are not considered hazardous areas. I recently took this issue to the national authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) over hospitals and asked them directly if they considered kitchens to be a hazardous area solely based on the NFPA definition of hazardous areas according to the 2000 LSC, and here is what they said:

  • CMS:                          Yes, kitchens are hazardous areas
  • HFAP:                        Yes, kitchens are hazardous areas
  • DNV:                         Yes, kitchens are hazardous areas
  • Joint Commission:      No, kitchens are not hazardous areas

So, most of the national AHJs say kitchens are hazardous areas, but Joint Commission (the accreditor who accredits the most hospitals) says they are not. I remind you that hospitals have to comply with all of the AHJs standards and interpretations, so if a hospital is Joint Commission accredited and receives funds for Medicare & Medicaid services, then they must treat kitchens as hazardous areas because CMS says they are even though Joint Commission says they are not.

Now, the technical committee for NFPA 101 (Life Safety Code) understood this dilemma and decided to make a change. Take a look at section 18/ of the 2012 LSC, which says: “Where cooking facilities are protected in accordance with 9.2.3, the presence of the cooking equipment shall not cause the room or space housing the equipment to be classified as a hazardous area with respect to the requirements of 18/, and the room or space shall not be permitted to be open to the corridor.” So, when the 2012 edition of the LSC is finally adopted, this whole issue of “is a kitchen a hazardous area?” will finally be resolved and everyone will be on board with the same interpretation. Then, the LSC will agree with your point, that as long as kitchens comply with 9.2.3 and NFPA 96, they will not be have to be classified as hazardous areas.

Thanks for being a reader….

Eyewash Stations in Kitchens

Q: Are we required to have an eyewash station inside a kitchen?

A: Maybe yes and maybe no…. It all depends on whether or not there are caustic or corrosive materials that could be splashed into the eye. The organization needs to do a risk assessment of the hazardous materials in and around the kitchen to see if there are any chemicals/ materials that are considered caustic and/or corrosive, and whether or not they can be splashed into the eye when used according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. I’ll say from my experience, there probably are not many such materials in a kitchen, as that would seem to be a bit risky to have hazardous materials where food is being prepared. But you may very well find such materials in a janitor’s closet nearby, or in the dishroom. If you do have caustic or corrosive materials, the eyewash station must be located no more than 10 seconds of travel away from where the materials are used or stored. All of these requirements are found in the ANSI Z358.1 standard, available through an on-line search.

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.

Special Fire Extinguisher Placard

Q: Do we have to have a special placard on our fire extinguishers in our kitchen, alerting people to activate the cooking hood fire suppression system first, before using the fire extinguishers? We received a citation from a surveyor on this issue.

 A:  The answer is yes, but I admit I was not aware of this requirement until recently. A hospital-client of mine was cited by their state surveyor for not having a placard near the Class K fire extinguishers informing the staff not to use the fire extinguisher until the cooking hood fire suppression system had been activated. I had never heard of this, so I contacted the surveyor at the state agency and asked what code or standard required this. He said it was in NFPA 96 (1998 edition), and sure enough, there it was in section 7-2.1.1: “A placard identifying the use of the extinguisher as a secondary means to the automatic fire suppression system shall be conspicuously placed near each portable fire extinguisher in the cooking area.” Now, the standard says ‘each portable fire extinguisher in the cooking area’, but the state surveyor cited just the Class K extinguishers. I learned something new that day, so I considered it a successful day. If you don’t have those placards near all of your extinguishers in the cooking areas of your establishment, then I suggest you consider them, before you get cited.


Kitchen Hood Fire Suppression System

imagesWAHA2STKThe fire suppression system that is required to be mounted in kitchen cooking hoods is typically a wet-chemical extinguishing system that automatically releases the extinguishing agent when the system detects a fire. Back in the early 1990’s the common system used then was a dry-chemical system but was found to be ineffective in extinguishing certain cooking-oil based fires. While NFPA, CMS and the Accreditation Organizations has not prohibited the use of dry-chemical extinguishing systems in kitchen cooking hoods, most state authorities have. There was a major undertaking in the fire extinguishing industry to replace all dry-chemical system with the better suited wet-chemical systems.

 The kitchen hood fire extinguishing system is required to be maintained semi-annually and the fusible links replaced annually. However, the owner’s representative (i.e. facility manager) is required to perform monthly inspections of the cooking hood extinguishing system. These requirements can be found in NFPA 17A, 1999 edition (for wet-chemical systems), and at a minimum, the quick check inspection must verify:

  • The extinguishing system is in its proper location
  • The manual actuators (pull stations)  are not obstructed
  • Tamper seals are intact on the pull station
  • The semi-annual maintenance tag is clearly visible and in place
  • There is no obvious physical damage or condition that would prevent operation
  • The pressure gauge is in the operable range
  • The nozzle blowoff caps are intact and undamaged
  • The hood, duct, and protected cooking appliances have not been replaced, modified or relocated

A record of this monthly inspection is required to be maintained, and is usually documented on the semi-annual inspection tag tied to the manual pull station that activates the system.

One of the lessor-known items that surveyors like to do during the building tour is interview a kitchen staff individual who works near the cooking hood, on whether or not they have received training on the correct operation of the hood extinguishing system. Another question surveyors like to ask is where does the kitchen staff individual go to manually activate the extinguishing system? A negative answer on either question will likely result in a finding under a staff fire safety training standard.

Take a look at NFPA 17A (1999 edition) and make sure you are doing two basic things:

  1. Conduct monthly inspections of all cooking hood suppression systems.
  2. Train all kitchen staff on the correct operation of the cooking hood suppression system.

Also, make sure the extinguishing system is being maintained on a semi-annual basis.

Are Kitchens Really Hazardous Areas?

If you read my Q&A on kitchens being hazardous areas, which was posted last Sunday (July 8th), then you may have been surprised by my position that kitchens are considered hazardous areas in healthcare occupancies. I know many readers are and they were not in the least bit bashful to tell me so. Some flat out told me I was wrong.

The question that the reader asked was “Is the main kitchen in a hospital considered a hazardous area? I’m referring to the main kitchen where all the food is prepared for the hospital, not the kitchenettes that are located on the units.” This individual went on to say that her hospital kitchen was cited for not being protected as a hazardous area.

My reply was I believe kitchens are hazardous areas based on the NFPA definition of hazardous areas, found in section of the 2000 edition of the LSC: “An area of a structure or building that poses a degree of hazard greater than that normal to the general occupancy of the building or structure, such as areas used for the storage or use of combustibles or flammables; toxic, noxious, or corrosive materials; or heat-producing appliances.” The last time I looked, kitchens have heat producing appliances, therefore kitchens are hazardous areas.

But that’s not the full picture. Section of the LSC says: “Where specific requirements contained in chapters 11 through 42 differ from general requirements contained in chapters 1 through 10, the requirements of chapters 11 through 42 shall govern.” The definition of hazardous areas is found in Chapter 3. The provisions for healthcare are found in chapter 18 and 19, and as far as I can see, there is nothing in those chapters that differs with the definition of hazardous areas found in chapter 3. Therefore, there is no conflict (or difference) between these chapters. My point being, I cannot find anything in the healthcare chapters that would override the definition found in chapter 3. Therefore, the definition must stand on it’s own merit, and it applies to kitchens in the hospital.

Those individuals that protested my answer all cited the same reason: The NFPA technical committee on healthcare occupancies never wanted kitchens to be a hazardous area. In fact, I learned from one of them that prior to the 1985 edition of the LSC, kitchens were in fact identified in the occupancy chapters as a hazardous area, along with many of the current areas, such as boiler rooms, paint shops, repair shops, storage rooms (over 50 square feet containing combustibles) and the like. However, the technical committee preparing the 1985 edition decided to remove kitchens from the list of hazardous areas and require them to have fire suppression systems as defined by NFPA 96. But the list of hazardous areas found in the healthcare occupancy chapters was never intended to be all inclusive. It is representational, and furthermore, it stipulates all hazardous areas to comply with section 8.4, which requires 1-hour fire rated barriers, or sprinklers. Nothing in the healthcare occupancy chapters said kitchens were exempt from being considered hazardous areas. The technical committee may have meant that, but the LSC doesn’t say that.

If you were to call the NFPA liaison to the healthcare occupancy chapters for the LSC, and asked them if they considered kitchens to be hazardous areas, I’m sure they would say no. The NFPA has dealt with this issue and they firmly believe that kitchens are not hazardous areas. In fact, the technical committee went so far in the new 2012 edition to specifically say that kitchens that comply with NFPA 96 are NOT to be considered hazardous areas. But that language is not in the 2000 edition, which is the edition that most hospitals must comply with. Also, here’s one important fact that many of the objectors seemed to conveniently overlook: The NFPA only writes the LSC, they do not enforce the LSC. Basically (and I don’t mean to be rude when I say this), it doesn’t matter what the NFPA says, it only matters what the NFPA writes, and the 2000 edition of the LSC says areas with heat producing appliances are hazardous areas.

Authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) worth their salt must enforce what is written in the LSC, not what people (including me) says the LSC means. Even the opinions from life safety experts at NFPA are not what the AHJs should base their interpretation on, but only what the written code says. Otherwise, the code keeps getting interpreted differently depending on who you talk with. I did a poll of my contacts from the four major AHJs who enforce the LSC in hospitals and here is what I found out:

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) considers kitchens in hospitals to be hazardous areas. This interpretation is considered unofficial, as CMS rarely issues official interpretations, and when they do it takes months or years for them to issue one.


The Joint Commission does NOT consider kitchens as hazardous areas in hospitals. This is an official statement from their public relations department. It really does not surprise me that TJC feels this way as they have been known to “pick and choose” certain requirements of the NFPA codes to follow and not follow.

The American Osteopathic Association / Healthcare Facilities Accreditation Program (HFAP) officially considers kitchens in hospitals to be hazardous areas.

Det Norkse Veritas (DNV) officially considers kitchens in hospitals to be hazardous areas.

So, 3 of the top 4 AHJs who survey hospitals consider kitchens to be hazardous areas in hospitals. The 3 accreditors (TJC, HFAP and DNV) receives their authority to accredit hospitals from CMS and if one of them has a differing opinion (such as TJC) than CMS, that’s a conflict. Don’t look for this to become a big issue, however. Since the 2012 edition has already resolved this, and since CMS is seriously looking to adopt the 2012 edition, this conflict goes away once the finally do.