June 03, 2013 | | Comments 0
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It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity (no, really…)

Good news for those of you who might be struggling a bit with low humidity levels (below 35%) in your surgical procedure areas. CMS issued a categorical waiver based on the recent changes to the FGI Guidelines for the Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities (including the recently updated ASHRAE 170 standard) that allows for relative humidity (RH) values in surgical procedure areas down to a 20% level. Could this be an example of science triumphing over bureaucracy? Only time will tell.

As always, there are some caveats involved: the waiver does not apply if more stringent humidity levels are required under state or local law or regulation or if the reduction of the RH would negatively affect ventilation system performance (which means you need to “know” where you stand relative to state/local requirements as well as the design specifications for your HVAC equipment—and if that sounds like a risk assessment, quack quack!).

Also, the waiver does not specifically establish an upper limit for RH in these areas; it does, however, strongly recommend that an upper level of 60% be maintained based on ASHRAE keeping that upper limit. So I guess those of you in more swampy areas of the world are going to have to keep on keeping on with that. Make sure you’ve got your response to out-of-range values process in good working order.

Administratively, while you will not have to apply in advance for the waiver or wait until you’ve been cited (which is always a fun thing), you must document that you’ve decided to use the waiver. Also, be prepared to notify the survey team assessing Life Safety Code® compliance at the opening conference of the survey that you have decided to use the waiver. Failure to provide documentation of your prior decision to use the waiver could result in a citation.

I guess this is just one more step on the road to the adoption of the most contemporary of codes and regulations. Can you say 2012 edition of NFPA 101? Sure you can! And hopefully, we’ll all be able to say that before too very long…

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Steve MacArthur About the Author: Steve MacArthur is a safety consultant with The Greeley Company in Danvers, Mass. He brings more than 30 years of healthcare management and consulting experience to his work with hospitals, physician offices, and ambulatory care facilities across the country. He is the author of HCPro's Hospital Safety Director's Handbook and is contributing editor for Briefings on Hospital Safety. Contact Steve at stevemacsafetyspace@gmail.com.

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