Evaluation of Health Care Operating Rooms as Wet/Dry Locations

Fire Protection Research Foundation report: "Evaluation of Health Care Operating Rooms as Wet/Dry Locations" (PDF)
Author: Melissa K. Chernovsky, Ph.D., Joel E. Sipe, Ph.D., Russell A. Ogle, Ph.D., P.E., CSP, Exponent, Inc.
Date of issue: October 2010


A key area of debate in the most recent revision cycle of NFPA 99, Health Care Facilities has been the topic of electrical environments in hospital operating rooms and whether they need to be classified as a wet location or dry location.

The present edition of NFPA 99 (2005) requires the governing body of the facility to determine if operating rooms are “wet locations” and therefore require special protection—usually either isolated power-supply systems or ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs)—against electrical shock. However, there are two opposing schools of thought on establishing this designation requirement, with the debate attempting to balance the need to provide a safe environment for patients and operating room personnel while at the same time providing a risk based solution and not over-designing the electrical distribution system.

This study defines and analyzes the hazards associated with hospital operating rooms to clarify the classification type (i.e. wet location versus dry location) of their electrical environment. This includes a review of the existing literature on fluid spills and electrical hazards in the operating room, a gap analysis for missing information, and a proposed risk assessment method for hospitals to use to evaluate the proper classification of an operating room.

The Research Foundation expresses gratitude to the report authors Melissa K. Chernovsky, Ph.D., Joel E. Sipe, Ph.D., and Russell A. Ogle, Ph.D., P.E., CSP, with Exponent Inc. located in Bowie, Maryland. In addition, the Research Foundation appreciates the guidance provided by the Project Technical Panelists, and all others that contributed to this research effort. Special thanks are expressed to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) for providing the funding for this project.