Laboratory Life Safety – NFPA 45 and Means of Egress
With the current influx of life science projects, a few questions are becoming increasingly common: Are there any specialty egress requirements for R&D laboratories? Are there any code considerations to be aware of regarding the layout of laboratory equipment? The answers to these questions tie back to the Laboratory Unit approach as regulated by NFPA 45, Standard on Fire Protection for Laboratories Using Chemicals (2011 edition).
What is a Laboratory Unit?
NFPA 45 utilizes the concept of Laboratory Units, which are similar in concept to control areas in that they are compartmentalized areas in which the allowable quantities of chemicals are limited. Laboratory Units are classified as Class A (high fire hazard), Class B (moderate fire hazard), Class C (low fire hazard), or Class D (minimal fire hazard) based on the quantities of flammable and combustible liquids within the unit. As the relative fire hazard increases, the requirements for life safety and means of egress become more stringent.
How many exits do I need to serve my Laboratory Unit?
NFPA 45 contains specific criteria for determining where a second means of access to an exit is required from a laboratory space, which may be more restrictive than the criteria otherwise specified by local building and life safety codes. The required egress arrangement will be dictated by the classification and size of the laboratory unit, as well as by the arrangement of equipment and hazards within the laboratory unit. For example, if a Class C Laboratory Unit exceeds 1,000 sf, a second means of access to an exit is required to be provided from the unit. Further, if there is a hazard located adjacent to the primary means of exit access that could obstruct the egress path in the event of an accident (e.g. an explosion hazard), a second means of access to an exit is required regardless of classification and size of the laboratory unit.
What are the limitations on exit access door configurations for my Laboratory Unit?
NFPA 45 contains requirements for door swing and the use of horizontal sliding doors that are dependent on the Laboratory Unit classification and are to be applied in conjunction with local building and life safety code requirements for doors. For example, exit access doors serving a Class A Laboratory Unit are required to swing in the direction of exit travel, whereas those serving a Class C Laboratory Unit are permitted to swing against the direction of exit travel if not otherwise required by building or life safety codes to swing in the direction of egress. Further, exit access doors serving Class C laboratory units are permitted to be horizontal sliding doors provided they comply with other local building and life safety code requirements.
If you have any questions or would like assistance with fire and life safety code compliance relative to laboratories, please do not hesitate to contact us.