August 15, 2017 | | Comments 0
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Fire and smoke: CMS clarifies which doors must be inspected annually

After pushback, federal officials backed away from their claim that smoke barrier doors must be inspected and tested annually.

More than three weeks after a well-publicized compliance deadline passed, CMS announced Friday that the deadline would be pushed back nearly six months, giving facilities until New Year’s Day 2018 to comply with an annual testing requirement for certain doors.

David Wright, director of the CMS Survey and Certification Group, made the announcement in a memo to state survey agency directors. He acknowledged that there had been a fair amount of confusion concerning the change, and he offered some pretty consequential clarifications that could affect whether the new requirement applies to your facility at all.

“[C]onsidering the level of reported misunderstanding of this requirement, CMS has extended the compliance date for this requirement by six months,” Wright wrote.

Within the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) 2012 Life Safety Code® (LSC), which CMS adopted last year, there is a requirement that fire doors and smoke barrier doors be tested annually. Officials with CMS had taken the position that the new requirement applies to healthcare occupancies; that position, however, was met with pushback.

A petition objecting to the CMS position was discussed at length in June by members of the NFPA Healthcare Interpretations Task Force (HITF), says Brad Keyes, CHSP, owner of Keyes Life Safety Compliance. That petition objected to the notion that the LSC specifically requires annual inspections of smoke barrier doors in healthcare occupancies.

“The HITF members did discuss the issue and agreed that healthcare occupancies were exempt from complying with section 7.2.1.15.2 … because the healthcare occupancies did not specifically require compliance with that section,” Keyes says in an email.

The committee decided to table its decision on the matter to give CMS an opportunity to review its position, as it did, Keyes says.

“I am pleased that the system worked in favor for the many hospitals that are certified by the Federal agency,” he adds.

Although the LSC does include provisions requiring annual inspections of smoke barrier doors and fire doors alike, section 7.2.1.15.1 states that these standards apply only where required by Chapters 11–43. Since the chapters governing healthcare occupancies make no direct reference to Section 7.2.1.15.1, the door inspection provisions do not apply to healthcare occupancies, Wright acknowledged in his memo.

Based on that conclusion, Wright spells out a few key takeaways:

  1. Fire doors. In healthcare occupancies, all fire door assemblies must be inspected and tested annually in healthcare occupancies, based on section 8.3.3.1 of the 2012 LSC, which applies to all occupancies.
  2. Smoke barrier doors. Non-rated doors (including smoke barrier doors and corridor doors to patient care rooms) aren’t subject to the annual inspection and testing requirements, but they “should be routinely inspected as part of the facility maintenance program.”
  3. Deadline. The compliance deadline has been pushed back from July 6, 2017, to January 1, 2018.
  4. Citations. Any LSC deficiencies related to annual fire door inspections should be cited under K211—Means of Egress—General.

But what if a healthcare organization was already cited at some point during the three-week gap between the original compliance date and the clarifying memo (July 6–28) for a failure to conduct an annual test of its smoke doors? Multiple CMS representatives did not respond to requests for an answer. Keyes says CMS has been a stickler in the past, holding that a finding cannot be removed once it is written on a survey report.

“There was an accreditation organization [AO] that used to allow findings to be removed from their survey report if the hospital could demonstrate compliance at the time of the survey,” Keyes says. “CMS has said that the AOs may no longer remove findings, even if the hospital was compliant at the time of the survey.”

The Joint Commission stated in the July edition of Perspectives that it requires annual testing for fire door and smoke door assemblies alike, despite acknowledging that the healthcare occupancy chapters don’t cite section 7.2.1.15 specifically. (To support the requirement, The Joint Commission noted that Section 18/19.2.2.2.1 references section 7.2.1, and cited a belief that the annual tests are beneficial.)

Keyes adds a word of caution: “The AOs are not locked into complying with everything CMS says or does. The AOs may have standards that exceed what CMS requires.”

That means the guidance in Wright’s memo might not trickle down to the AOs and state agencies that conduct surveys at your facilities, especially considering how widely advertised the original compliance date has been.

“So, I suspect many of the AOs will keep the start date at July 5, 2017, since they are already enforcing that,” Keyes says.

With that in mind, he recommends that all healthcare facilities have their fire doors tested as soon as possible, rather than waiting until the new deadline—because another authority having jurisdiction might keep to the stricter timeline.

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Brian Ward About the Author: Brian Ward is an Associate Editor at HCPro working on accreditation news.

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