July 01, 2015 | | Comments 0
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Perhaps one isn’t the loneliest number after all…

This past week, my travels brought (or, more appropriately, returned) me to the environs of the New English, where I got to work a little out of my normal scope of practice: a health center setting. Now typically, as business occupancy settings, health center environments (I thought) tend to be a little less complicated than hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers, etc., but I learned last week that even business occupancies can experience the “bliss” of competing jurisdictions—oh, what fun!

So, typically using Chapter 38 (new) or 39 (existing) from NFPA 101 as my baseline expectation for compliance, we started the document review (this particular organization is looking at embarking upon Joint Commission accreditation). A couple of tweaky things in the fire alarm testing documentation, but nothing of great concern; some tweaks relative to some utility systems testing, but again, nothing major. Then we started looking at the documentation of fire inspection reports and I ran into a somewhat unanticipated condition: the local fire inspector was using the state fire code (in this case, Massachusetts), which is based primarily on NFPA 1 Fire Code. I will freely admit that my familiarity with NFPA 1 as a specific document is rather limited, but I was able to make use of NFPA’s free access to important codes and standards through its online portal. Interestingly enough, there are a lot of common threads between 1 and 101, but for those of you with business occupancies separate from your main campus, it might behoove you to acquaint yourself with some of the basics, particularly if your state fire code is based on NFPA 1 (if I was good, I’d figure out which states those were—maybe another time).

Anyhoo, where things got kind of interesting was that the regional authority having jurisdiction for this particular organization was the state Department of Public Safety (DPS), who it appears are using NFPA 101 as their consensus standard for life safety. This organization is in what I will call a reclaimed warehouse (circa early 1900s), where things like egress may have been considered, but not to the degree in present day. The basement level is more than one-half story below the level of exit discharge (actually, the stairwell goes two levels below the level of exit discharge), so the DPS inspector told them they have to install a gate in each of two stairwells to prevent folks from heading down past the level of discharge. I think you’re probably familiar with that condition. Well, when the local inspector saw the gates, he cited the organization for obstructing egress (I looked at the area where the gates were installed and they were well out of the way of the egress route, but close enough to prompt departure from the stairwell). Now, I did look in NFPA 1 and cross-referenced it to the state fire code (there are certain elements of NFPA 1 that the state code does not adopt, but this wasn’t one of them) and the allowance (actually, I guess it is really a requirement) for the gates in the stairwells is clearly indicated in this particular situation. I encouraged the plant ops director to try and figure out a solution in coordination with the local guy when he returns for his re-inspection. I suspect (hope) that this was just an interpretation based on a partial familiarity with the code in question (that’s never happened before, has it?) and that all will end well. I’ll keep you posted if I hear anything.

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Steve MacArthur About the Author: Steve MacArthur is a safety consultant with The Greeley Company in Danvers, Mass. He brings more than 30 years of healthcare management and consulting experience to his work with hospitals, physician offices, and ambulatory care facilities across the country. He is the author of HCPro's Hospital Safety Director's Handbook and is contributing editor for Briefings on Hospital Safety. Contact Steve at stevemacsafetyspace@gmail.com.

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