Hazardous Materials: Laboratory Code Compliance, Hazmat 1

By Andy Shanahan


Boston, Cambridge, and the surrounding communities have long been a hot spot for laboratories. Between the world-class universities and hospitals, as well as the high number of biotech and pharmaceutical headquarters, this area has always had a large number of laboratories. And it continues to be a fast-growing market.

In this blog series, we look at the building and fire code compliance for laboratories, in the State of Massachusetts. The State of Massachusetts has a multi-layered approach to laboratory compliance. First, they adopt and amend the 2015 International Building Code. They also adopt and amend NFPA 1, Fire Code. Each of these standards reference multiple other standards that regulate specific spaces, uses, and hazards.

The permitting process is similarly multi-layered.


When applying for a building permit, the building code requires that an outline describing compliance with 780 CMR Sections 307, 414, and 415 be included on the construction documents. The way to demonstrate compliance with these standards is by detailing future chemical inventory, as well as several critical items about the building and the tenant space. Once the inventory is classified by the hazard presented, the space and building must be shown to be within the allowable thresholds.

If the space/building is not within allowable thresholds, additional fire and life safety criteria must be met. These criteria also involve other building and life safety systems such as fire-rated construction, enhanced fire suppression, mechanical ventilation, and much more. The construction documents must demonstrate compliance with these enhanced requirements.

The code requires this report to be prepared by a qualified individual or firm and the results of the report are subject to inspection prior to the issuance of the certificate of occupancy.


In addition to the Building Code requirements, the State has several permits that must be obtained from the Fire Department.

First, any tenant in any City in Massachusetts must apply for and maintain a flammable permit with their local fire department. This is used to inform the local fire department that there are hazards in the space that exceed those in a typical office space. The chemical inventory and classifications required by 780 CMR can be submitted as part of this permit application.

The City of Boston has a specific Annual Permit form, while Cambridge uses their portal. A city’s local fire department is a good resource to obtain the proper forms.


Laboratories within the City of Boston have to apply for a “Lab Registration.” This outlines compliance with many requirements that govern risk specific to laboratory occupancies.


A land license may also be required. Unlike the flammable permit or lab registration, the land license is building-specific, not tenant-specific. Each occupant is required to submit their chemical inventories to the building owner who applies for the land license.

While the building permit is a one-time application, needed prior to occupancy, Fire Department permits are required to be renewed annually to determine if the hazardous materials totals have changed. As all building permits are driven by the inventory, the inspectors may confirm the accuracy of this information as part of their annual inspections.