This photograph is from a commissioned test of HDPE untreated panels conducted by an independent laboratory using the NFPA 286 roomcorner test The photo shows the HDPE panels being tested as they would be installed as toilet partitions in the field Note the resulting flammable liquids fire on the floor and flammable liquids ldquoflowrdquo on the panels

This photograph is from a commissioned test of HDPE untreated panels conducted by an independent laboratory using the NFPA 286 room-corner test. The photo shows the HDPE panels being tested as they would be installed as toilet partitions in the field. Note the resulting flammable liquids fire on the floor and flammable liquids “flow” on the panels.

Restroom Fire Safety

When specifying toilet partitions, school and university facility managers should pay attention to fire-code compliance.

Two key non-profit membership organizations, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the International Code Council (ICC), develop compliance parameters relating to fire safety and building construction. However, the codes and standards they develop are not mandatory until adopted by jurisdictions such as city, county, state or the federal government. 

The latest editions (2012) represent the most recent state-of-the-art standards. Regardless of jurisdictional adoption at this time, failure to comply will serve as evidence of not doing “what a prudent person would do.” Why? Because these codes and standards most likely at some point will be adopted in all jurisdictions and affect all school and university restroom toilet partitions sooner or later.

Revised Toilet Partition Requirements

The ICC has published the 2009 and 2012 editions of the International Building Code (IBC) and the International Fire Code (IFC) model codes. The 2012 editions of the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code and NFPA 1 which, in their aggregate of four, now require that HDPE, when used as an interior finish, as in plastic toilet partitions, must be tested in accordance and comply with NFPA 286 Standard Methods of Fire Tests for Evaluating Contribution to Wall and Ceiling Interior Finish to Room Fire Growth. Polypropylene (PP) was included  in all four codes in the 2012 editions.

Moreover, NFPA 286 has been deemed to be superior to the traditional “tunnel test,” ASTM E-84 Standard Test Method for Surface Burning Characteristics of Building Materials when testing these materials. Both IFC and NFPA 101 apply this new testing requirement to existing interior finishes.

Also, the four model codes previously described now clearly regulate toilet partitions as interior finish, contrary to some jurisdictions interpretations in the past.

Polypropylene (PP) and High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

With the increased use of PP and HDPE as building materials, notwithstanding toilet partitions, memberships of all four codes concluded that ASTM E-84 testing was inappropriate, and that the materials must be tested in accordance and comply with NFPA 286.

Two separate tests done by an independent research laboratory used the standard, unmodified NFPA 286 room-corner test on 1-inch-thick HDPE solid panel toilet partitions. These tests showed that untreated HDPE toilet partitions do not meet the requirements of the NFPA 286 room-corner test.

Partition Materials in Compliance

Solid color reinforced composite (SCRC), solid phenolic and high-pressure laminate toilet partition materials comply with the model codes. It is recommended that architects, school and university facility managers, contractors and distributors insist on unmodified NFPA 286 test compliance documentation from PP and HDPE toilet partition manufacturers prior to specifying or purchasing either untreated or treated HDPE toilet partitions.

Gettelman is vice president/external affairs for Bobrick Washroom Equipment, Inc., North Hollywood, Calif. Lathrop FSFPE, is vice president of Koffel Associates, Inc., Columbia, Md. Bobrick commissioned the test referenced in the photos.

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