Are hospital operating rooms by default "wet locations" requiring electrical shock protection or a risk assessment?

Operating Room Electrical Safety Open to Debate

Are hospital operating rooms by default "wet locations"? Deciding yes or no has not been easy for the technical committee revising NFPA 99, Health Care Facilities, Richard P. Bielen writes in the current NFPA Journal.

Work on an update of NFPA 99, Health Care Facilities, is starting anew after vigorous debate last year could not settle the question of whether hospital operating rooms are "wet locations" requiring special protection against electrical shock, unless a risk assessment determines otherwise, Richard P. Bielen, director of Fire Protection Systems Engineering for NFPA and staff liaison for the standard, writes in the NFPA Journal®'s current issue.

On the same page with his article are links to audio files in which Bielen discusses the issue.

The article explains how the technical committee proposed in the 2010 edition of NFPA 99 that operating rooms by default be considered wet locations, but two large groups then took opposing viewpoints, and a compromise was not adopted. One group supports the change; the other says the expense is unjustified because electrical shock historically has not been a significant problem in operating rooms. Whether they should be treated as wet locations depends on the equipment and procedures being performed, this group maintains, according to Bielen's account.

If the proposal were adopted, new or renovated operating rooms would need special protections against electrical shock. The standard is now in the annual 2011 cycle, so its next update is likely to be a 2012 edition, writes Bielen.

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