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May 21, 2019

When designing a hazardous material storage building, it is important to understand not only the applicable building code requirements but to be familiar with how hazardous materials will affect your project. These four main considerations will help you understand how hazardous materials will affect the height, area and type of construction.

  • Identify hazards
  • Determine the maximum allowable quantity
  • Identify occupancies
  • Understand the Use of Hazardous Material Control Areas

Identify Hazards
Potential chemical hazards regulated by the International Code Council (ICC) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) are identified as either a physical or health hazard. Other hazards may exist, such as biological or radiological, which are addressed by other regulatory bodies. You can identify hazardous materials through the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), the International Fire Code (IFC) or hazard identification software.

Determine the Maximum Allowable Quantity (MAQ)
First, you must identify the hazardous material, and then determine its intended use. There are three types of intended uses for hazardous materials in the IBC: storage, open-use systems and closed-use systems. A closed system would be one in which the hazardous materials are not exposed to the open atmosphere during normal operation, while an open system would be one in which the hazardous material is open to the atmosphere and can be released during use. After identifying and determining the use of the material, refer to the IBC Table 307.1(1) for physical hazards and IBC 2012 Table 307.1 (2) for health hazards to determine quantity. The MAQ is the amount permitted in most occupancies without additional protection. Increases are available for certain hazardous materials when stored via approved methods like flammable storage cabinets, and when the building is fully sprinklered.

Identify Occupancies
The International Building Code (IBC) has ten main occupancy groups. Each group corresponds with the use of the building. You will need to identify if the building will have only one occupancy, such as storage, or have multiple occupancies. If the MAQ is exceeded, a High Hazard Occupancy is required regardless of the use of the space.

Understand the Use of Hazardous Material Control Areas
A control area is a compartment within a building where hazardous materials are stored, dispensed, used or handled. A control area is separated from the rest of the building using fire rated walls and floors. The number of control areas per floor and allowable percentage of MAQ varies depending on how far above or below grade level the control area is located.

The use of hazardous materials in a building can significantly impact many aspects of construction, whether new construction or renovation. If hazardous materials are part of your project, an early understanding of quantities and storage/use conditions is vital to proper design of protective systems. One way you can manage this information through the project life cycle is with a Hazardous Material Management Plan.

If you have hazardous materials questions on how to prepare one, or need support ensuring your building is properly protected for hazardous material storage and use, drop us a line at or tweet us @jensenhughes .