Code requirements for compliance can often get confused with common knowledge when it comes to life safety systems. Building and safety codes can be difficult to decipher, so many of us tend to rely on others to tell us how to maintain compliance. But how do you know this common knowledge is actually correct? Working every day in the field, we hear a lot of talk about compliance and life safety systems that isn’t necessarily true. We want to clear up a few of the common misconceptions we’ve heard so that you aren’t misled when it comes to your facility’s compliance.
Misconception 1 – “As long as I’ve had MOST of my inspections, I should be okay.”
Most people are only worried about passing inspections and, in light of budget restrictions or time constraints, only perform partial inspections and maintenance on certain things to pass an AHJ survey. The problem with this is that in an actual emergency, life safety systems must work together to fully protect a building and provide effective compartmentation. For example, imagine you’ve maintained your dampers religiously and ensured all penetrations in fire barriers have been firestopped, but you have neglected your fire doors. In the event of a fire, smoke will be prevented from spreading through compartments via your dampers and fire walls, but will quickly travel past a non-compliant fire door spreading into the next compartment. No component is more important than the others. All 3 of these components work as a cohesive system and rely on one another to ensure building safety. Only having some of the components compliant may leave your building at risk.
Misconception 2 – “Fire dampers and doors don’t really need to be maintained, as long as I have an active sprinkler system.”
When mentioning fire and life safety, the first things that usually come to mind are fire alarms and sprinklers. This leads people to believe that their passive life safety systems (fire dampers, fire doors and fire barriers) are not as important as long as their sprinklers and fire alarms are in place and in working condition. However, this is never the case. These systems are designed to work in conjunction with your sprinklers and fire alarms. By relying on these systems to contain the fire to one compartment, the sprinklers are more likely to extinguish the fire. In addition, fire sprinklers, like any system, can become prone to failure over time. If the sprinklers in place do not activate immediately or fail for some reason, fire dampers and fire doors are in place to allow the occupants safe egress.
Misconception 3 – “Code and compliance for life safety systems aren’t really enforced”
While this misconception is rarely heard in the healthcare setting, where there are regular inspections by The Joint Commission, CMS, and other regulating authorities, this misconception is often heard in commercial buildings. It’s important to remember that these codes are in place to ensure safety, and a facility could be facing grave consequences if they do not maintain compliance. Even if the fire marshal, TJC, CMS or any other AHJ never inspects your facility (which would be rare), as building owners and managers, you may be held liable for any damages incurred due to malfunctioning or non-compliant systems in the event of a fire. Without documentation of compliance, a facility could be looking at hefty fines, or worse, loss of property and life in the event of a fire. Maintaining these systems ensures that minimal damage occurs in the event of a fire.
These misconceptions are easy to debunk with the right information. NFPA 80 and NFPA 101 outline the requirements for all of these life safety systems. If the code is unclear or confusing, it helps to ask for advice from an outside life safety contractor, since they work to maintain compliance with codes on a daily basis. Hiring a reputable professional will also ensure that your facility is maintained at the highest level of compliance.
If you need help maintaining compliance in your facility, call PREVENT Life Safety. We provide complete barrier management solutions to customers in the healthcare and commercial markets. Learn about our fire barrier management program or give us a call at 877-392-6074 or request a free quote online.