Temporary Construction Barrier

Q: Is there a fire rating requirement for a temporary construction barrier that will separate a construction area from a patient care area which will be an occupied space throughout demolition and construction (surgery ORs) in an area that is non-sprinklered on both sides of the construction barrier? This surgery modernization project will involve installing sprinklers throughout the entire smoke zone, but not until later phases of the project.

A: The new 2012 LSC references the 2009 edition of NFPA 241, and there have been some major changes with this edition. NFPA 241 (2009 edition) requires 1-hour fire rated barriers between occupied areas and construction sites where the construction site is not protected with automatic sprinklers. These barriers will have to extend from the floor to the deck above. Also, NFPA 241 (2009 edition) will allow non-rated barriers where the construction site is protected with sprinklers, but ‘construction tarps’ are not permitted. At this point, it is unclear if the flame-retardant visqueen plastic that is commonly used will be considered ‘tarpaulins’ by the accreditation organizations and CMS.

It is important to point out that during last June’s Healthcare Interpretation Task Force (HITF) meeting at the NFPA annual conference, the committee did discuss this issue regarding flame-retardant plastic sheeting being used when non-rated barriers are required. Overwhelmingly, the members said no, as NFPA 241-2009 section requires non-rated walls when the construction area is protected with sprinklers. The consensus was flame-retardant plastic sheeting is not a “wall”; therefore, it would not be permitted.

The HITF did not make a formal decision on this issue, as the person who submitted the request rescinded it before a decision could be voted. This means there is no formal interpretation on this issue, so check with your accreditation organization, and your state and local authorities to determine what they allow and if they have any other regulations on this subject.