Author(s): Laura Montville. Published on September 1, 2016.

Safety in the Sky

A closer look at the applicable codes and standards for laboratories.


NFPA 45, Fire Protection for Laboratories Using Chemicals, provides requirements to prevent and control fires and explosions involving the use of chemicals in laboratory-scale operations.

First, the standard assists users in classifying the hazard present in the laboratory based on the amount of flammable and combustible liquids in use. Then, based on the classification, the standard provides design and construction requirements for the lab unit, ventilating system, and fume hoods, as well as procedures for storing, handling, and disposing of chemicals.

For example, a laboratory with 500 gallons of Class I flammable liquids would be classified as a Class A laboratory (high fire hazard). Class A laboratory units are limited to 10,000 square feet in size, must have a two-hour fire separation between the lab unit and non-laboratory areas or lab units of equal or lower hazard classification, and may only be located one to three stories above grade. To be located above the sixth story, a laboratory unit is required to be Class C (low fire hazard) with a two-hour fire separation, or Class D (minimal fire hazard).

While NFPA 45 provides an overview of laboratory hazards, the document refers to other NFPA codes and standards for additional requirements:

NFPA 30, Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code, is used to classify flammable and combustible liquids based on flash point and boiling point and provides requirements for the construction of storage cabinets and inside storage areas. Containers of flammable and combustible liquids are limited to a maximum allowable container capacity depending on the container type and the liquid classification.

NFPA 55, Compressed Gases and Cryogenic Fluids Code, contains maximum allowable quantities of compressed and liquefied gases. Depending on the laboratory classification, the quantities of these gases may be limited further. For example, the quantity of compressed and liquefied gases in a Class D laboratory unit is limited to 50 percent of the quantities listed in NFPA 55, and in instructional labs, the quantity is limited to 10 percent.

NFPA 400, Hazardous Materials Code, covers the handling and storage of chemicals, including those that are not specifically addressed in NFPA 45 such as oxidizers and corrosives, and waste handling and disposal.

NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, provides information on life safety requirements such as means of egress design and capacity, fire protection equipment, and interior finishes.

NFPA 1, Fire Code, contains laboratory requirements that are coordinated and centered on the various building hazards found in the laboratory. NFPA 1 includes requirements dealing with hazardous materials and contents based on allowable quantities, ventilation, and storage of laboratory materials.

NFPA 5000, Building Construction and Safety Code®, assists users in determining the occupancy classification as well as building construction provisions based on the height and area of the building. It also contains information on control areas used to determine allowable quantities of hazardous materials that may be found in the laboratory. These provisions are coordinated with other NFPA documents such as NFPA 45.

LAURA MONTVILLE is an engineer at NFPA and staff liaison for NFPA 45.