August 31, 2020 | | Comments 0
Print This Post
Email This Post

If you’re the AHJ, it really isn’t an “interpretation,” is it?

I’m sure we all have stories about Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) whose “sense” of what is required by code was less operationally friendly than one might have preferred. The instructor at my first educational program at NFPA headquarters indicated that there is a single response to any question than can be asked regarding compliance with (in this case, but it applies fairly universally) the Life Safety Code®: “It depends.” There may be some that think that that was a rather flippant thing to say, but in my experience it holds way more truth than hyperbole, pretty much to the point of embracing it as a central concept for pursuing compliance. The corollary that extends from that is one of the other compliance “truths”: Any AHJ can disagree with any decision you’ve made, or, indeed, anything that they or another (competing) AHJ might have told you in the past. A good example of this is when you run into a state surveyor who is not particularly inclined to “honor” an existing waiver or equivalency. If I’ve learned anything over the past X number of years, it’s that results of previous encounters have little bearing on future encounters.

At any rate, I recently received a question regarding the audibility of occupant notification appliances as a function of NFPA 72 and the interpretation of an AHJ that there is no such thing as an “average ambient sound level.” It would seem that this particular interpretation is based on the “sense” that “average ambient sound level” (and it’s cousin “ambient sound level”) are unrelated to any measurements taken by a contractor or through the AHJ’s office. As we know (being the stewards responsible for ensuring that care environment is as functionally quiet as possible), NFPA 72 does indeed invoke (for audible public mode appliances) that the sound level of those appliances must have a sound level of at least 15 dB above the average ambient sound level or 5 dB above the maximum sound level having a duration of at least 60 seconds, whichever is greater, etc. NFPA 72 also stipulates a process for making that determination, calling for sound pressure level being measure over the period of time any person is present, or a 24-hour period, whichever time period is lesser. And to be honest, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen (perhaps because I never asked for it, but I may start) any documentary evidence of that measurement when determining the sound levels for a fire alarm system.

So, the thought occurs to me that it is entirely possible that, based on his observations and experience, his statement regarding the measurement of ambient noise levels is accurate to the extent of that experience, etc. He may know the contractor that installs fire alarm systems in his jurisdiction and received feedback that the process stipulated under NFPA 72 is not routinely included in acceptance testing of a system. Or it may be that, in his determination, the standard industry practice in his jurisdiction is not sufficiently consistent to allow for the use of the ambient noise levels as a determining factor and has identified an acceptable range for his jurisdiction (75 to 110 dB). He also knows that his office is not performing this measurement, so his statement, while perhaps a bit hyperbolic, is accurate from his standpoint. But I know there are areas in which even 75 dB can make quite a racket (I’m thinking recovery rooms, ICUs, etc.), which leads me to a closing anecdote.

Back when I was responsible for day-to-day operations, I had (on a number of occasions) tried to convince my local AHJ that we could reduce the volume of the notification appliances in the PACU (which, of course, begs the question of why anyone would spec audible devices in the PACU, but sometimes…) and still achieve the same level of safety in the event of fire, etc. (primarily based on staffing levels), but I couldn’t sell that scheme. This went on over the course of several years until one day I happened to find out this individual was coming in for surgery and darn if there wasn’t a fire alarm activation when he was in the PACU. Long story, short: His next visit resulted in him signing off on reducing the volumes on the appliances (I couldn’t get my boss to sign off on replacing them—lean budget times, but sometimes you have to take what you can get).

Hope you’re staying away from any exceptionally pesky AHJs, but if you’re dealing with an unbending presence, I hope you get the opportunity to cast some illumination on your “interpretation.”

Take care and stay safe!

Entry Information

Filed Under: Life Safety Code

Tags:

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.

RSSPost a Comment  |  Trackback URL

*