4 exceptional challenges faced when inspecting fire dampers in hospitals

NFPA 80 requires the inspection and testing of fire dampers in existing buildings every 4 years, except hospitals, where the frequency is every 6 years. Most people would expect that hospitals would be held to a much higher standard that other facilities. However, due to the many building systems critical to the safety and health of their occupants, accessing fire dampers more frequently than 6 years would increase the risk of interfering or damaging many other systems that are located above ceiling near the dampers. Thus hospitals are allowed for a lengthier, but also safe, period of time between inspections.

Healthcare facilities pose exceptional challenges when it comes to accessing and inspecting fire dampers. Due to the number of occupants and nature of the facility, healthcare fire protection features must be maintained stringently to protect those who are unable to protect themselves. These inspections should not be trusted to just anyone. Performing fire damper inspections in hospitals requires a certain amount of tact and skill.

Here are the Top 4 challenges faced when performing fire damper inspections in hospitals:

1. Thorough and Accurate Inspections
Building occupants within healthcare facilities must be presumed to be incapable of self-preservation due to the limited mobility of patients associated with physical or mental illness, age, and security measures. Because these patients are unable to evacuate without assistance or moving them could result in major health complications or death, their safety depends on the facilities life safety systems functioning as designed in the event of a fire. If life safety systems are code-compliant and functioning as designed, these occupants should be able to defend in place even if the fire is relatively close to their locations.

Doctors working in a busy hospital corridor

It’s important for fire damper inspectors to understand this concept and ensure that every fire damper is inspected, even if access is difficult. Repairs must be made as soon as possible from the time they are uncovered to ensure that they are functioning appropriately. A good fire damper inspector will not leave a job without exhausting every option to leave the damper systems working properly.

2. Access Issues
Due to the high-occupancy of healthcare facilities and the 24-hour care required, it can be difficult to access certain areas where fire dampers may be present. Surgical rooms, intensive care units, and mental health areas can be difficult to access due to the high-demand, high-occupancy, and security issues faced when attempting to access the ceiling in these areas.

Fire damper inspectors must be aware of these access issues and maintain an open line of communication with not only the facilities department, but the doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff. Staff members can help them to arrange times to access these difficult areas of the hospital and/or ensure that the necessary security measures are taken in advance. Knowing what they can access safely and when will help to eliminate any hindrance on the daily operations of the facility and ensure completeness and accuracy of the inspection.

3. Infection Control
In addition to access and security issues, infection control must remain a top priority when doing any type of maintenance work in a hospital. Patients undergoing cancer or other intensive treatments are likely to have compromised immune systems and are susceptible to infection by even the most seemingly harmless pathogens. Dust housed above the ceiling can contain dormant mold and fungal spores that pose no threat to a healthy individual, but can be extremely damaging or lethal to immune-compromised individuals. Microscopic dust particles can be disturbed during maintenance and construction work and can easily travel across several floors in a facility.

An inspection technician accessing dampers above ceiling using The Solution.
When accessing dampers above the ceiling, it’s important that fire damper inspectors are experienced working in healthcare facilities and take the proper infection control precautions to avoid contaminating sterile areas or distributing dust or pathogens throughout the facility. Proper use of a ceiling-access mobile containment unit, such as The Solution, is necessary in order to create a contained work area to collect dust and filter contaminants from the air. For more information on The Solution, click here.

4. Attention to Detail
With the wide-variety of healthcare applications and systems housed within a hospital, it’s extremely important to pay attention to detail when inspecting fire dampers. Life safety systems such as fire dampers are not the only systems running above the ceiling. Other utilities, such as medical gas systems, sprinkler piping, and electrical systems, are housed near and around the HVAC systems where fire dampers are located. These other systems play an important role in the use of equipment that is critical to the health and safety of patients and other building occupants.

Fire damper inspectors must have experience in working around multiple utilities and understand the importance of these utilities. Paying close attention to these systems and avoiding the disruption of their operation is extremely important when inspecting dampers. Having a general knowledge of these systems and how to work around them can help to ensure a smooth inspection process.

Choosing fire damper inspectors who are experienced working in hospitals, have a broad understanding of life safety systems, and understand the importance of communicating with the hospital staff is imperative to the safety and security of the patients in your hospital and help to overcome these 4 challenges. If hiring an outside contractor, make sure to interview them and make sure they are experienced and prepared to do the inspections in your hospital.

PREVENT Life Safety Services has conducted thousands of damper inspections in hospitals across the country. We work with nurses and facility supervisors to ensure we are getting the job done in a timely and efficient manner. Our technicians also understand the importance of infection control when accessing dampers, especially in sensitive areas like the ICU or operating rooms, which is why they use The Solution to prevent any harmful particles from infecting the delicate environment.

If your facility is in need of a damper inspection, give us a call at 877-392-6074 or request a free quote online.

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