An important part of providing a safe environment for patient care is making sure the components of the essential electrical system that provides back-up power for things like emergency lights, exit signs, fire alarm systems, and the critical lighting, receptacles and equipment, are inspected, maintained and tested properly.

NFPA 110-2010, Standard for Emergency and Standby Power Systems — which is referenced in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid K-tag K918 and The Joint Commission Standard EC.02.05.07 — requires that generators be exercised under load monthly. Further, it requires that the test for diesel generators be conducted at a minimum of 30% of the nameplate kW rating, or at the minimum exhaust temperature as recommended by the manufacturer. For various reasons, some organizations do not meet the 30% nameplate rating requirement, and the code does have an acceptable substitute for this.

For organizations that do not meet the 30% nameplate rating requirement when conducting their monthly generator tests, an annual load bank test is required. This test requires that the first 30 minutes are operated under 50% load and the remaining hour is conducted at 75% load.

Every third year, or 36 months, organizations also are required to conduct a four-hour test. For diesel generators, this test must also be at no less than 30% of the nameplate kW rating, or at the minimum exhaust temperature as recommended by the manufacturer. 

Organizations often wonder whether this annual load bank test and the 36-month test may be combined to eliminate the need for two separate tests to meet both requirements. The answer is yes, they may be combined. In this scenario, the first three hours needs to be either 30% nameplate rating or maintaining the minimum exhaust temperature recommended by the manufacturer. The remaining hour is to be at no less than 75% of the nameplate KW rating.

For organizations that intend to combine these tests, it is recommended that the documentation makes it clear that it is a combined annual load bank and 36-month test. It also should include the correct references from NFPA 110-2010, stating that the test meets the requirements of Section