Medical Air Dew Point Alarm

Q: I have a compressor that delivers medical air for our patients and want to know what the requirements are for the alarm system for the air dryers. Where do the alarms have to sound and what is the range for the dew point for the dry air?

A: The requirements for medical air and related accessories are found in NFPA 99 (1999 edition), chapter 4. Section 4- describes multiple requirements for monitoring the air that is discharged from the medical air compressor. The point where the air quality must be monitored is downstream of the regulators, but upstream of the piping systems. Dewpoint as well as carbon monoxide must be monitored on a continuous basis and when these parameters are out of their normal range, they must actuate an alarm in the mechanical room where the medical air compressor is located and on the medical gas alarm mater alarm panels (mentioned in the above question).  The dew point monitor must active an alarm when the dew point exceeds 39%.

Medical Gas Alarm Panels

Q: Is it a requirement to keep access to the medical gas alarm panel clear in a similar manner that access to medical gas shutoff valves must remain clear? These alarm panels seem to always be mounted in a crowded area.

A: The medical gas shutoff valve clearance which you are referring to is found in NFPA 99 (1999 edition) section 4- (d) which requires the zone valves to be readily operable from a standing position in the corridor on the same floor it serves. While it does not specify a clearance in inches or feet, this is frequently interpreted by many authority having jurisdictions (AHJs) to be 36 inches clearance in front of the valves, which is similar to the 36 inch clearance required in front of electrical panels. Section 4- (b) 2 of NFPA 99 requires the master medical gas alarm panels to be placed in two locations: 1). In the principal working area of the individual responsible for the maintenance of the medical gas systems, and: 2). In an area where the alarm panel is continuously monitored, such as a switchboard area. Section 4- (d) requires area alarm panels to be located at the nurses’ station or some other location that will provide responsible surveillance. NFPA 99 does not specify any clearance requirements for these alarm panels. So, as long as they can be monitored at the locations listed, then you are meeting the requirements of the standard.  

Medical Air Used to Dry Equipment

Q: Is it allowable to use clean compressed medical air to blow off equipment in central sterile? Currently, we use compressed air from our medical air distribution system to dry equipment in our central sterile area, and we have concerns if this practice is permitted.

A: No, it is not permitted. The LSC requires that you be in compliance with NFPA 99 (1999 edition). Joint Commission and CMS both have adopted the 2005 edition of NFPA 99 only for non-flammable compressed gas cylinder storage, but for all other aspects of NFPA 99, the 1999 edition is the one to follow. The annex section on 4- discusses the intent of the medical air piping distribution system should only be used for respiratory assistance needs involving breathable air. The medical air system is not intended to be used for general hospital support use. If the medical air system was used for purposes other than breathable air then there is a chance of cross-contamination, and it might increase service interruptions and reduce the service life of the equipment. While the annex section of NFPA 99 is not part of the enforceable standard, it does provide guidelines to follow for the authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) on how to apply the standard. Therefore, it can be (and is) enforced by The Joint Commission, CMS and other AHJs. My advice is to discontinue using compressed medical air for drying equipment, and reserve the medical air only for breathing purposes.