Veterinary Hospitals and Animal Research Facilities

Assessing medical gas requirements.

Which medical gas code are you to follow when designing a veterinary hospital or clinic? I was asked that very question several times recently. You would think that since it relates to medical gas, you would just follow the NFPA 99 for the most part, but the answer is more complicated than that.

The code year in which your state or local jurisdiction was adopted will drive your search. For this example we will use the 2012 NFPA 99. Section 1.3.1 basically  says “This code shall apply to all health care facilities other than home care.” If your jurisdiction uses the 2015 NFPA 99 code, you will need to read the same section.

The 2015 NFPA 99, section 1.3.1 added the words “veterinary care” to the end of the exact same verbiage from the 2012 code quoted above. With this addition, NFPA is making an attempt at differentiating human and animal care when it comes to medical gas systems. This does not preclude other codes or guidelines from requiring the use of NFPA 99 when designing and installing medical gas systems. 

If you are using the 2015 NFPA 99, it removes veterinary care from using the code. Next I will point you to your local jurisdiction’s fire code. In a good portion of the country, many cities follow the IFC codes. If your city follows the 2012 IFC, then look at section 5306 regarding medical gas systems.

Section 5306.1 for “general compressed gases at hospitals and similar facilities that use analgesia and sedation for facilities such as dentistry, podiatry, veterinary and similar uses shall comply with sections 5306.2 through 5306.4 in addition to requirements of this chapter.”

Section 5306.4 of the 2012 IFC tells you to comply with NFPA 99 and the general provisions of this chapter. So go back to NFPA 99 and determine what to apply and how to apply it.

  • So where do we start? 
  • Which category do we use? 
  • What gases will be used in the facility? 
  • What sedation will be performed and how? 

I classify a veterinary hospital as a Category 2 facility to start basing my design around. NFPA 99, section 1.1.2 Fundamentals explains Chapter 4 as the chapter that sets the criteria for levels of health care services or systems based on risk to the patients, staff or visitors to the facility. In this case, we will focus on the safety of the visitors and staff. 

The 2012 NFPA 99, section 4.1.2 Category 2 explains the criteria as if failure of the equipment is “likely to cause minor injury to patients or caregivers,” you would design to this category. With this in mind, you would need to understand what procedures are performed and how they are performed to understand the risk to the patient and caregiver.

If the veterinary hospital will be performing surgery using inhalation-type anesthesia, you will want to treat this facility similar to Category 2. This category requires simplex source equipment. Many times, the procedures will be done under local anesthetics, sedatives and tranquilizers, sedative analgesics, or general anesthetics, which may include inhalation anesthetics.

Another item to consider is if you are using the 2012 NFPA 99 or the 2015 edition, it will determine if you can use a Category 3 instead of a Category 2. Per the 2012 NFPA 99, section 5.3.1.2, a Category 3 can only use oxygen and nitrous oxide. In the 2015 NFPA 99 section 5.3.1.2, it provides more leeway in using other gases, but the caveat to using a Category 3 is the sedation level. If you are only doing moderate or minimal sedation, you will be allowed to use Category 3. If you will be using general or deep sedation, you will be pushed back up to Category 2. 

The 2015 NFPA 99, section 5.3.10 dictates that you shall comply with 5.1.10 except when you are installing dental piping. Since you are not installing dental systems, you will follow section 5.1.10.

NFPA 99 2015 section 5.1.10 talks about cleaned and capped piping, fittings, valves etc. If you are following the code as is, you will provide cleaned and capped piping. This section also goes on to talk about the requirements for the installing contractor and the brazing process including nitrogen purge. Categories 2 and 3 also bring with them the inspections and verification process of the medical gas systems. 

Simply put, for a veterinary hospital or clinic project you will want to collaborate with your local jurisdiction first to determine which code they will enforce. If they do not know and leave it up to you, then you have something to base your decision on and have it documented.

You will need to collaborate with the clinicians who are performing the procedures that would use medical gases, such as oxygen or medical air. Having this information will allow you to size your equipment and piping based on the anticipated flow rates for animals large or small. 

John Gregory, mechanical coordinator in HDR’s Phoenix architecture studio, has 28 years of experience in medical gas systems design and inspections, process piping, plumbing, and fire protection systems design for multiple business classes. He coordinates projects with HDR’s clients and supervises team members on plumbing, process piping, fire protection and medical gas systems. Gregory is a certified medical gas inspector NITC 6020. He serves on the NFPA 99 Technical Committee for piping and installation, and he is a co-chair of the P.I.P.E. Medical Gas Committee in Arizona. Gregory’s unique skills are an asset to every team in which he is involved. He can be reached at john.gregory@hdrinc.com

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