November 21, 2018 | | Comments 0
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Walls and Bridges: Managing construction projects large and small

As you might guess, part of my approach when I’m doing onsite client work is to review the process for managing construction projects, inclusive of the risk assessment process (infection control, life safety). To my mind, there is no more risky business in the physical environment (the management of ligature risks notwithstanding) than undertaking construction or renovation projects, particularly when those projects are in spaces adjacent to occupied patient care (or indeed, any occupied) areas. And with the adoption of the 2012 Life Safety Code® (LSC) and the growing invocation of Chapter 43 Building Rehabilitation, it would seem that the tip of the regulatory spear is getting sharper by the moment.

One of the things that I encounter with some regularity is a fundamental flaw in how the risk assessment actually captures/identifies the risks to be managed as a function of what strategies are to be implemented to eliminate/mitigate the impact of those risks. For example, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen assessments of a project that is going to include construction barrier walls in a corridor for which the assessment indicates no impact on egress. Now, you can certainly indicate that, based on the implementation of X, Y, and Z, you have mitigated the impact on egress, but to indicate in the assessment that there was no impact on egress from a barrier wall that has encroached on the corridor, is inaccurate at best—and possibly could draw the ire of a literalist surveyor. As I like to tell folks when I encounter this: You don’t get credit for doing the math in your head; the assessment should indicate that there was an impact, but the impact was mitigated by the implementation of ILSM(s).

Similarly, if you remove the suspended ceiling in a project area, you have impaired the smoke detection/sprinkler protection in the area. Now it may be that the impairment is sufficiently minor in nature to not require implementation of ILSMs, based on your policy, but you still have to indicate that such is the case. You can’t say there was no impact or impairment, because the condition you have represents an impairment and so, there’s got to be some level of impact.

I think perhaps the way to look at this is much in the vain of our emergency management Hazard Vulnerability Analysis (HVA) process. There is no harm/no foul in identifying risks for which you would need to be prepared (you could make the case that there are few things as disruptive to an organization as a construction project) as long as you have a strategy for managing those risks. So, if you carry over the philosophy to construction/renovation, it makes it “easier” to frame the assessment as a proactive management of risks rather than trying to figure out how to do as little as possible (and I do see pre-construction risk assessments that seem to be aimed at a de minimis implementation strategy). But using the HVA algorithm (likelihood, impact, preparedness, response) you might find that your “packaging” is a little tidier than it was previously.

As a final note on this subject, I really think you need to get in the habit (if the habit has not already formed) of posting infection control permits, ILSM permits, etc., outside of construction/renovation areas so it is clear what the expected conditions and/or practices might be. You can’t be looking over the shoulder of the contractors every minute, so it helps to have some eyes in the field (with a reasonable knowledge base) keeping watch. There is definitely an expectation of regulatory surveyors that these will be posted in conspicuous locations (yeah, I know there’s no rule that says you have to, so chalk this up to a best practice invocation), so better to have visible postings.

Please let me close things out with best wishes for a joyous and restful (Can you combine those two? I think you can!) Thanksgiving to you and your families. 2018 whipped along at a pretty good clip and I suspect that the holidays will launch us into 2019 before too long, so take a few deep breaths and enjoy the day.

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Filed Under: Environment of careLife Safety Code


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

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