Codes and standards have what might seem like a never-ending list of documentation requirements. Many health care facilities teams get cited for not being able to speak to the repair of a single asset. What if the codes and compliance workload could be reduced and reallocated to a more important or higher-risk asset?
Many health care facilities teams do not take advantage of the alternative options listed in the codes and standards or the advancements of the codes and standards. Buildings change over time: Additions are created, floors are renovated, shell space is built out, assets are replaced and sometimes life safety advancements are made, such as adding automatic sprinkler protection to an older hospital. Health care facilities teams must step back and take a holistic view of these changes and how they can benefit operations.
Further, when something does break, the immediate response is to “fix it.” However, many times, this is not the most appropriate response. “Fix it” is easy and can also cost the facility significantly more money. Instead, teams should ask, “Is it still required?”
Due to advancements in the codes and standards, many building life safety features are no longer required. This, coupled with the acceptance of risk assessments, allows great flexibility. For example, electrical rooms have long been inferred as requiring a 1-hour fire rating; however, the National Fire Protection Association’s NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code®, in 450.21 only requires a 1-hour rating if a dry-type transformer exceeding 112.5 kVa is installed and that transformer does not have Class 155 insulation or greater.
A high-level analysis at Banner Health identified over 2,750 rooms across 30 hospitals that could be de-rated through meeting the alternative option. This analysis informs changes to the life safety drawings, which then eliminates the need for fire door and damper testing, as both would be decommissioned. This will save the hospital system millions of dollars over the life cycle of the spaces, reducing the need to generate this revenue to offset these expenses.
In other cases, advancements in technologies offer building owners and managers new options related to code compliance. For example, NFPA 10, Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers, allows for the monthly physical inspection of a fire extinguisher by a human to be replaced with an electronic monitoring system. Banner is currently in the process of piloting electronic fire extinguisher monitoring, which would allow for a reallocation of technician hours to more critical and fulfilling tasks.
Health care facilities have more flexibility than ever before thanks to years of hard work from health care experts to drive change in codes and standards. Facilities teams should take advantage of this flexibility.
Sidebar by Joshua Brackett, PE, SASHE, CHFM, system regulatory director for facilities at Banner Health in Phoenix.