Q: We have a stairwell in our hospital that extends from the 8th floor to the 1st floor, where there is a door that discharges the occupants to the outdoors. We have construction in progress on the 2nd floor, which affects the stairwell and we have closed the stairwell at the 2nd floor level, however, we have allowed the stairwell to remain open from the 3rd floor to the 8th floor. Our safety officer thinks allowing people to travel from the 8th to the 3rd floors in a stairwell that is closed on the 2nd floor is not allowed, and wants to close the entire stairwell. This would be a hardship for our staff that wants to use the stairs rather than wait for an elevator. Do we have to close the stairwell entirely, or can we allow it to remain open on the upper floors?
A: Construction projects never make it easy on facility managers and safety officers, do they! My answer to your question is dependent on the precautions and alternative measures that you have implemented. First let me say that when working with something that is such an integral part of safety such as an exit stairwell, the most effective safety precautions should be taken. If it were my decision, I would agree with your safety officer and want to shut the entire stairwell down as the construction project has caused the path of egress to be obstructed. However, there is another option. If you implemented the appropriate Interim Life Safety Measures (ILSMs) and provided adequate signage on each floor declaring the stairwell is no longer an exit, explaining that it now terminates at the 3rd floor, and if you provided adequate signage explaining where the closest alternative exit is located, then you would be able to allow the stairwell to be used for communicating purposes to get from floor to floor, and it is no longer an exit. Any ‘Exit’ signs that direct the path of egress towards and into this stairwell would have to be covered or removed and the construction in progress would have to be separated from the occupants in the stairwell with appropriately rated materials. Other ILSMs would have to be considered as well, according to your hospital’s policy. While this would not be my first choice, I agree that this modified use of the stairwell would be permitted by the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code (LSC), 2000 edition.