Corridor Obstruction for Construction

Q: Can an existing 8-foot wide corridor be reduced in width to 4 feet by temporary construction barriers?

A: Yes, but you will need to conduct an assessment for Alternative Life Safety Measures (or Interim Life Safety Measures as one accreditation organization calls it). All of the AHJs understand there will be times when you will need to have non-compliance with the Life Safety Code during periods of construction, maintenance, or emergency repairs.

It is understandable that you will need to build a ‘bump-out’ in an existing corridor of an occupied unit, in order to conduct demolition, and reconstruction, which will obstruct the required width of the corridor during the period of construction. The Life Safety Code already has considered this situation and section 4.6.10.1 of the 2012 LSC permits buildings to be occupied during periods of construction provided that ALSMs (or ILSMs) are in place.

So, when you know that the corridor needs to be obstructed for the purpose of construction, you assess the situation for ALSM (ILSM) and you follow what your ALSM (ILSM) policy requires you to do. For a corridor obstruction, it is likely that you would be required to do:

  • Staff education on the obstruction, informing them of alternative routes for exiting
  • Daily inspections, looking for accumulation of debris, supplies or other items
  • An additional fire drill in the affected area to ensure staff understands that an alternate route for exiting is required

There may be other measures that need to be implemented, such as additional education, or additional fire-extinguishment devices. Once the assessment is conducted, it must be recorded and available for review by surveyors.

Interim Life Safety Measures

Q: At our hospital, we had numerous fire dampers that failed their 6-year test. What ILSM measures for that many dampers would you recommend putting in place?

A: You are correct in saying ILSM assessment needs to be made for deficient fire dampers. Many hospitals get into trouble over that and forget to do that, so I’m glad to hear that you are on top of that. What I see some of my clients do for defective fire dampers is to make an ILSM assessment that states “No compensating measures are required”. I would not recommend that, but it appears that will be accepted by some accreditation surveyors. I would recommend at the minimum “Staff Education” as a compensation measure for an ILSM assessment. Send a memo to the staff in the area of the defective fire damper instructing them in the case of a fire, the fire dampers may not operate correctly until you get them repaired. They should take into account the location of the defective fire dampers when determining which direction they will evacuate (if needed).

ILSM Implementation

Q: During our last survey the life safety code specialist discovered that 2 of our stairwells were deficient as far as the fire-rating. The contractor did a lousy job as far as the 2-hour rating in 1985 and I guess no one caught it since then, including myself! So 30 years later thanks to the sharp eyes of our surveyor, we will fix it and it’s not going to be walk in the park. My question is: Do we need to do fire watch and additional ILSM fire drills be sufficient?

A: You have an apparent Life Safety Code deficiency. You must assess that deficiency for alternative life safety measures (aka Interim Life Safety Measures, or ILSM), in accordance with your ILSM policy. This is a must, regardless who your accreditation organization is. This assessment must be made on the day that you discover the LSC deficiency.

Your ILSM policy must dictate what measures you will implement (if any) for what particular LSC deficiency. It is important to understand that the policy decides what measures to implement; not a person. In other words, it is pre-determined in the ILSM policy what interim life safety measures will be implemented long before the deficiency is discovered. This removes the human element of making the incorrect decision. It also eliminates the common problem that only the Safety Officer can decide what ILSM to implement. Once it is identified in the ILSM policy, anyone can implement the proper measures.

That said, a Fire Watch is usually reserved for a deficient fire alarm system or a deficient sprinkler system, so typically, a Fire Watch would not be implemented for a defective stairwell construction. Additional ILSM fire drills are a possibility, but usually additional fire drills are implemented when there is a change in exiting that staff needs to be aware of. If this stairwell is closed or an alternate egress route is indicated, then I could see additional ILSM Fire Drills would be appropriate.

Cable on Sprinkler Pipe

Q: We have some sprinkler piping that runs the length of the hall with multiple wires wrapped around the pipe. There is no way of removing the wiring from the pipe unless we perform some major sprinkler pipe removal and reinstallation. This has been identified in a mock survey and we need to come up with a plan of action. How do you recommend we deal with this?

A: Well… you really need to remove the cables and wires from the sprinkler pipe. If you don’t, then you are non-compliant with NFPA 25-2011, section 5.2.2.2.2.

However, here is one other possibility: Do a risk assessment; determine what risks there are to the sprinkler pipe that has cable surrounding it. (I suspect you will find there are no risks, or at least, minimal risks). If your risk assessment identifies any mitigating factors, then implement those mitigating factors. In other words, remove the cable from the sprinkler pipe the best that you can.

If you cannot remove all of the cable from the sprinkler pipe then I suggest you assess it for ILSMs and let it be. Wait for it to be cited during a survey, then submit a waiver request as part of your plan of correction. I suspect the accreditation organization would likely transfer the waiver request on to the respective CMS regional office and they would approve it, provided you demonstrated a significant hardship.

Extra Fire Drills for ILSM

Q: Joint Commission standard LS.01.02.01, EP 11 requires the hospital to perform an additional fire drill during periods of Life Safety Code deficiencies that cannot be immediately corrected or during periods of construction. This standard goes on to say that the need for additional fire drills is based on the criteria in the hospital’s ILSM policy. Let’s suppose that a hospital has deficiencies in the Life Safety Code that lasts only for two, three, four days or maybe even a week. Would the hospital still be required to perform an additional drill for such a short duration of Life Safety Code deficiency? What if the hospital’s Safety Committee decides to state that as part of their ILSM policy criteria, it won’t conduct an additional fire drill per shift per quarter unless the Life Safety Code deficiency lasts beyond a certain amount of time, say maybe a month. It seems to me that a Safety Officer would be on the hook for an additional drill per shift per quarter if ILSMs are only in place for a week is overkill and would serve only to further desensitize staff to its fire alarm system.

A: Joint Commission’s standard LS.01.02.01, EP 11 is not prescriptive, meaning they choose not to specify when the extra fire drill needs to start to compensate for a certain deficiency. They don’t even tell you which deficiency the extra fire drill is even required. That is left up to you to decided and state in your ILSM policy.

I tend to think like you, in that the extra fire drill per shift per quarter does not make sense for a short-term LSC deficiency. But when is a LSC deficiency short-term and when is it considered long term? Perhaps a better approach is to ask: “When will the extra fire drill per shift per quarter be required?” Once you decide when the extra fire drill is required, that should help you decide how soon you need to implement the extra fire drill.

When I was the Safety Officer at the hospital where I worked, I felt the extra fire drill was needed when an exit was obstructed or the access to an exit was obstructed. The reason I believed this, is when you do a fire drill one of the items you are assessing is that staff knows the proper way to evacuate patients (using simulated patients, of course). If the path is obstructed, they need to know the alternative path and be able to demonstrate that. The extra fire drill should assesse the staff’s knowledge on evacuation routes.

Some LSC deficiencies aren’t as obvious so you need to ask yourself “Should I conduct an extra fire drill for this deficiency?” for all of the possible scenarios of LSC deficiency that you could have. Set up a Q&A for all the potential LSC deficiencies that you may encounter at your hospital, then ask yourself is an extra fire drill necessary. Here is an example:

  • Failed fire dampers?                                                   I would say no.
  • Obstructed exit?                                                          I would say yes.
  • Unsealed penetrations in a fire/smoke barrier?          I would say no.
  • Fire alarm pull stations not working?                         I would say yes.
  • Smoke detectors not working?                                  I would say no.
  • Obstructed access to an exit?                                     I would say yes.
  • An inoperative fire pump?                                         I would say no.

Ask yourself: “Would the staff benefit from an extra fire drill if this feature of life safety was not working?” I would say obstructed exits, obstructed access to exits, and inoperative fire alarm pull stations are easy to say ‘yes’ to… but the others? I’m not so sure as I don’t think the staff would benefit from an extra fire drill for an inoperative fire pump, or a failed fire damper. The next question is: “When do I begin the extra fire drills?” Well, if you have defective pull stations or an obstructed exit, you are going to do education and awareness training to the staff affected by these deficiencies. The purpose of the extra fire drill is to assess the staff’s knowledge of these LSC deficiencies after you have conducted the education and training. So, what is reasonable for an obstructed exit? A month after the exit became obstructed? I would say not. Maybe a week after the exit becomes obstructed, but I would say not any more than a week. The sooner the better, as you (the Safety Officer) want to know for sure that the staff knows about the LSC deficiency and takes appropriate alternative action. But this is my opinion, and you need to take this to your Safety Committee and let them offer their suggestions before you finalize your policy. Document this assessment in the form of a matrix, spread sheet or a written narrative in your ILSM policy, and have your Safety Committee review it and approve it. Then the surveyor can only hold you to what your policy says you should do.

Just as a reminder… The extra fire drills for ILSM purposes need to be conducted in the area(s) affected by the LSC deficiency. That means if you have an obstructed exit discharge due to construction, you need to perform the extra fire drills in all areas affected by the deficiency. That may mean you are doing multiple extra fire drills per shift per quarter, until the LSC deficiency is resolved. Also, each fire drill needs to activate the building’s fire alarm system, but during the hours of 9:00 pm and 6:00 am you are not required to activate the audible signals on the fire alarm system.

Interim Life Safety Measures

Q: Are Interim Life Safety Measures (ILSMs) required in Business Occupancies due to construction or life safety code deficiencies? Do we have to conduct a fire watch in Business Occupancies?

A: Yes, interim life safety measures are required for any impairment to a life safety deficiency, regardless of the occupancy type. This is based on two specific requirements. 1) Section 4.6.10.1 of the 2000 edition of the Life Safety Code describes alternative life safety measures (which are the same thing as ILSM) as a general requirement for all occupancies. It is not specific for just healthcare occupancies. 2) Also, if you are Joint Commission accredited, the overview to their Life Safety (LS) chapter says section LS.01.02.01 on ILSMs is applicable to all occupancies.

ILSM on Fire Door Replacement

Q: If renovation requires replacement of fire doors in multiple areas of the hospital, and must be completed in a short period of time, what would be appropriate interim life safety measures? This would cover multiple areas of the hospital.

A: Appropriate Interim Life Safety Measures (ILSM) for replacing multiple fire doors in a hospital all at the same time would be determined by hospital’s ILSM policy. According to Joint Commission’s standard LS.02.01.01, EP 3, the ILSM policy must include criteria for evaluating when and to what extent the hospital follows special measures to compensate for life safety risks. What this means is the hospital gets to decide what ILSM measures to implement for which life safety impairments, within reason. But, to directly answer your question, I would think the following measures should be considered for implementation:

  • Staff education:  Issue a memo to all departments that are affected by the fire door replacement, notifying them of alternative routes for exiting.
  • Temporary construction partitions: Fire retardant plastic sheeting needs to be installed to contain dust and dirt during the demolition and construction phase of the fire door replacement project.
  • Issue additional fire extinguishers: Place extra fire extinguishers in the project area and provide instructions to the construction workers on how to operate them
  • Daily surveillance: Daily surveillance to ensure the fire door project area is clean and free from debris should be performed, as long as the project is active.
  • Post signage: If the project to replace the fire doors blocks access through the egress corridor in that area, then signage should be posted indicating the nearest alternative exit.
  • Fire watch: If any portion of the fire alarm system or the sprinkler system is impaired for 4 or more hours in a 24 hour period due to the fire door replacement project, notification of the local fire department is required and a fire watch must be performed

Temporary Storage in Patient Rooms

Q: We have a short-term project where we need to find some space to store equipment until they are installed. The equipment is electronic and needs to remain in their cardboard boxes until it is installed. We think we need to store these items for 6 – 8 weeks. Can we use patient rooms that are not in service as temporary storage areas?

A: Your question is more like “Can we violate the Life Safety Code (LSC) for a short period of time?” In some situations you are permitted to violate the LSC. Section 4.6.10.1 of the 2000 edition of the LSC says you are permitted to occupy the building during construction, repair, alterations, or additions where alternative life safety measures (aka Interim Life Safety Measures), which are acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction, are in place. If the equipment that you wish to store in the out-of-service patient rooms qualifies as construction, repair, alterations or additions, then I would say you have a legitimate position, as long as you implement alternative life safety measures. The measures that you implement should be in accordance with your policies.  However, out-of-service patient rooms cannot be used for storage of combustibles (in this situation, the cardboard boxes would be considered combustible) that is not associated with construction, repair, alteration or additions. The reason is most patient rooms are not constructed to meet the requirements for hazardous storage rooms. Make sure you perform the alternative measures and document each inspection.

Temporary Storage in Patient Room

A client of mine contacted me last week and wanted to know if they could temporarily store combustibles in a patient room that is currently under renovation. Apparently the suite where the patient room is located is undergoing a facelift, involving wall coverings and floor coverings, and the patients have been relocated.

I don’t know if my answer was what they wanted to hear, but I informed them whenever combustibles are stored in a room greater than 50 square feet, the room must comply with section 18.3.2.1 of the 2000 edition of the LSC. The reason we need to follow chapter 18 instead of chapter 19 is by placing combustibles in storage in a patient room, we are now changing the use of the room, and a change in use requires compliance with chapter 18.

Section 18.3.5.1 requires all new construction to be sprinklered and Table 18.3.2.1 requires rooms that are over 50 square feet but no more than 100 square feet to have a self-closing door. For combustibles stored in a room exceeding 100 square feet the room must be sprinklered (per 18.3.5.1), have 1-hour fire rated barriers, and have a 3/4 hour fire rated self-closing, positive latching door.

What if the patient room is over 100 square feet and is not constructed to 1-hour fire rated standards, do you have to spend thousands of dollars to modify the room for temporary storage? I say no, you don’t. That’s what section 4.6.10.1 on Alternative Life Safety Measures (or Interim Life Safety Measures as some AHJs call them) is for. Conduct a risk assessment of the combustibles temporarily stored in the patient room and compare the results with your policy on ALSM (or ILSM). Implement whatever compensating measures are needed according to your policy, and document the assessment.

Make sure you do what your policy says you will do, and document all actions, and you should be OK.

Construction in Hospitals

Construction in hospitals is so unavoidable, as it seems to go together like salt and pepper, but usually does not taste as good. You simply cannot renovate or remodel an area in the hospital without creating some sort of Life Safety Code deficiency. It’s a lot like cooking: You can’t make an omelet without cracking the egg! (Enough of the cooking references… My wife has me watching the Food Network too much!)

All of the authorities of jurisdiction (AHJ) know this, and they understand that at times, you will have to disable fire alarm and sprinkler systems; you will have to close exits and stairwells; and you will have to encroach upon the exit corridor width. Even the Life Safety Code (2000 edition) section 4.6.10.1 discusses the need to have alternative life safety measures in place during renovation. While some accreditation organizations actually call it “Interim Life Safety Measures”, the concept is the same.

Alternative (or interim) life safety measures requires the organization to make an assessment of the proposed renovation to determine if there will be any deficiencies made of the life safety features.  If so, then the organization needs to decide what actions, if any, will be necessary to compensate for this deficiency. The Joint Commission requires that you place this decision process in the form of a policy with pre-determined plans of action already identified.

Other issues concerning construction are the barriers that separate the construction area from the occupied areas. Joint Commission only requires the barriers to be ‘smoke tight and flame resistant’, which can be accomplished with a certain type of flame resistant plastic sheeting. However, other AHJs, such as CMS and some state agencies, require compliance with NFPA 241  Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations, (1996 edition) which requires construction areas with ‘hot work’ to have 1-hour fire rated barriers as a separation from occupied areas. Hot work is defined as work involving open flame, grinding, cutting and welding. And, this 1-hour barrier needs to go from the floor to the deck above, unless it meets a horizontal surface that is also rated for at least 1-hour.

When the new 2012 edition of the LSC is finally approved by all of the AHJs, then NFPA 241 will include an exception that is not available in the 1996 edition. It will allow non-rated smoke tight barriers in lieu of 1-hour fire rated barriers provided there are active automatic sprinklers, which are properly installed, in the construction site. This will be a great savings for future construction projects.

If you are currently relying on the official position of The Joint Commission and only providing smoke tight barriers for construction sites, then you are exposed to other AHJ’s opinion that you need 1-hour fire rated barriers. At the very least, I suggest you call your state and local AHJs and ask them if they would accept the smoke-tight barriers. If so, then you don’t need to go the route of erecting 1-hour barriers. However, if they do require 1-hour fire rated barriers, then you will have time to change your policies to allow them for future projects.

Then everybody will be as happy as a clam (oops, there I go again.)