Q: We recently had an inspection in our hospital where the inspector cited us for our suite doors not having positive latching. The suite doors have 1500 pound access-control magnets controlled by card-swipe badge readers and with wall-mounted push buttons. They are on emergency power and eight-hour battery back-up. They are also approved by our local and state fire marshals. Is the inspector correct, or do I have a case for an appeal?
A: The concept of a Suite-Of-Rooms requires the barriers of the suite to be protected in the same manner as any other room bordering on an exit access corridor. Therefore, entrance doors to the suite must meet the requirements of corridor doors. In your question, you did not specify if your organization is considered a new healthcare occupancy or an existing healthcare occupancy. This is an important issue, as there are different requirements for each. If your facility’s construction documents were approved by the local authorities after March 1, 2003, then it is considered a new healthcare occupancy.
In new healthcare occupancy, section 220.127.116.11.2 of the 2000 edition of the Life Safety Code specifically requires positive latching hardware for corridor doors. The definition of positive latching is a spring-loaded throw on the edge of the door to engage in the strike plate of the door frame. Magnetic locks do not qualify as positive latching hardware. Therefore, you may not use magnetic locks in new healthcare occupancies for suites (corridor doors).
However, for existing healthcare occupancies, section 18.104.22.168.2 of the same Code specifically allows a device capable of keeping the door fully closed with a minimum force of 5 foot-lbs. Some authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) approve of magnetic locks for this purpose as long as power to the locks is NOT interrupted during a fire alarm signal. Doors in the path of egress are not permitted to be locked except where the clinical need of the patient requires it. Not all AHJs agree on what types of patients qualify for this exception. When locks are permitted on egress doors, they must meet the requirements found in 22.214.171.124.4. The entrance door to a suite-of-rooms is permitted to be locked, as the path of egress is not allowed into and through a suite.
Magnetic locks in lieu of positive latching on corridor doors is not recommended as there are many complications and challenges in compliance, and not all of the AHJs agree on this application. It appears that a successful appeal on this issue would be difficult.