October 04, 2021 | | Comments 1
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Not just dentists need drills…

There’s an interesting article on the history of fire drills in the latest issue of Health Facilities Management if you’ve not checked it out. I had the chance to do some work at St. Anthony’s Hospital a while back—it remains a beautiful building even despite its somewhat tragic past. At any rate, in acknowledgement that any specific requirement in the Life Safety Code® tends to be the result of a tragedy (not locking egress doors is one that springs very quickly to mind), it’s a fairly simple task to trace the origin of fire drills back to this hospital fire.

But it seems that some of the lessons of history have been lost to the mists of time (wait, what?!?) and fire drills have come to be considered (not by you or me, but by some) to be rather burdensome. Even OSHA only “recommends” fire drills (though I suspect that that is more of a “one size fits all” recommendation: if you can’t mandate it for all, you can’t mandate it for any), though I suspect you would have to do some very fancy footwork to convince any surveyor from the big O that fire drills were not a most important component of any occupational safety program. I do know that the interpretation of certain accrediting agencies as to what does or does not constitute “unexpected times and under varying conditions”, has made the scheduling of fire drills more burdensome (between you, me and the lamppost, the only person who remembers when the last fire drill—regardless of the shift—was conducted is the person charged with scheduling them), but one of the prerogatives of being an AHJ is to be as burdensome as one likes. If you’re a member of ASHE, they’ve updated their fire drill matrix to help identify fire drills that are too temporally proximal. Check out the details here.

So, I guess the question I have boils down to this: in the (unlikely) event that fire drills are removed as requirements in healthcare occupancies (I think it even less likely that business occupancies would be absolved of the requirement for fire drills), would you still conduct them as a “best practice”? I will freely admit that I am a wee bit torn about how I would respond to that. I am generally in favor of the provision of “live” education to staff (I know computer-based learning is somehow less intrusive, but I think I prefer education to be intrusive; not “in your face” intrusive, but not so far off that mark) and I always tried to use fire drills as an opportunity to interface with line staff on a myriad of topics. But the thought of fewer things that I would “have” to do has a certain appeal. At the end of the day, I don’t think I’d turn my back on fire drills as a means of providing education to staff, but I suspect it would be an uphill battle if word ever got out that fire drills were no longer mandatory…if that were to ever happen.

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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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  1. Steve,
    Interesting read. It really doesn’t matter to me whether CMS/TJC remove the requirement or not. Our state fire code requires drills, so, yes, I would continue to do them. But I wouldn’t be so picky about the time/day of the week criteria. I would make sure they are done frequently enough to satisfy myself (and Administration!) that our staff knowledge is adequate or better.

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