New standards for electrical systems: Are you in compliance?

Michael Chotiner
Michael Chotiner

There's been a fundamental shift in the building codes that apply to healthcare facilities, published this year by the National Fire Protection Association. The revised code reclassifies various areas within facilities where medical treatments are performed and sets different standards for the configuration, maintenance and testing of the electrical systems that serve them.  Facilities operators should be aware of the changes, not only to protect the well-being of patients and staff but also to ensure compliance with licensing requirements.

The 2015 version of NFPA 99, which is the Healthcare Facilities Code, has changed its traditional approach from setting rules for each facility type (e.g., hospital, nursing home, limited-care facility, medical or dental office, etc.) to one that assesses the risks of certain medical procedures and services that may be performed in a number of different facility types. The change brings about new applications of rules articulated in NFPA 70, the National Electrical Code and NFPA 110, the Standard for Emergency and Standby Power Systems.  

While most technical details of the codes are best left to engineers, facility administrators should be aware that requirements for what NFPA defines as “Essential Electrical Systems” (EES) in healthcare facilities have changed with the risk assessment of procedures and services model. It's important for facility operators to discuss this fact with their maintenance lead and engineering consultants to verify their awareness of the changes. Those responsible for electrical system maintenance and testing need to be up to speed to ensure compliance with prescribed standards.

For non-engineers, it is enough to understand that the codes and definitions are meant to set prudent standards for emergency power generation systems and circuit branches that supply power to critical equipment in operating rooms, ventilators, security systems, emergency lighting, and communications systems. EES requirements set acceptable minimums for the capacity and response times of transfer switches, which deliver power from emergency generators when supply from a primary source fails, and circuit breakers, which protect against fires in the event of a short or overload.

While many of the new standards apply only to new facilities that haven't yet been built, some apply to both new and existing facilities. Key provisions that apply to both include:

  • All receptacles must have a grounding pole.

  • Tamper-resistant receptacles or tamper-resistant receptacle covers required in pediatric locations.

  • Receptacles, fixed electrical equipment and corded equipment must be tested after damage, after repair, or at least every 6 months.

  • Patient care rooms defined as wet procedure locations (operating rooms) shall have isolated power supplies (IPS) or ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCI).

  • Receptacle covers for life safety and critical branches shall have distinctive markings in Type 3 EES.

Provisions dealing with maintenance and testing of emergency generators can be found in NFPA 99, including:

  • Testing intervals

  • Test conditions

  • Personnel qualifications

  • Maintenance and testing of circuitry

  • Maintenance of batteries

  • Recordkeeping

  • Administrative requirements

Each facility should have a copy of the standards. They can be ordered from NFPA at http://catalog.nfpa.org.

Michael Chotiner, a former carpenter and contractor, writes for The Home Depot on a range of DIY topics ranging from building kitchens for seniors to installing transfer kits for generators. To see a selection of transfer switches visit www.homedepot.com.   

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