Locked Doors to Utility Rooms?

Utility rooms, whether they are clean utility rooms, or soiled utility rooms, are not required to be locked according to any NFPA standard, Joint Commission standard or CMS Condition or standard. However, if there is a perceived risk to safety because a utility room door is left unlocked and the hospital has failed to assess that risk, then the surveyor or inspector has every right to cite the organization for ‘interior spaces which are unsafe to occupants of the building’. This would be scored under EC.02.06.01, EP 1 for Joint Commission, or under §482.41 for CMS. The big problem with §482.41 for CMS is this is a ‘Condition’ rather than a standard that would be considered out of compliance and that alone would trigger a full-fledged CMS validation survey, which is very undesirable.  So this is something you definitely do not want to happen at a hospital.

So, the way a risk assessment is conducted to determine if a perceived risk is OK as is, or if something further needs to be done to compensate for that risk, is very simple. Take a sheet of paper, draw a vertical line down the middle, and list all the ‘Pros’ of the risk on the left side and all the ‘Cons’ of the risk on the right side. Whichever side has the most items or the most severe items listed, wins. If the ‘Pro’ side wins, then you don’t have to lock the door, but if the ‘Con’ side wins, then the doors should be locked.

Here’s an easy example: For a pediatric unit, where it is not uncommon to see children patients walking up and down the corridor (even though they are supervised) a clean or soiled utility room door which is not locked poses a HUGE risk to safety for the children, and the utility room doors should be locked. However, utility room doors on a geriatric unit does not pose the same risk as there are far fewer children roaming the hallways, so the doors could remain unlocked.

The risk assessment has to be documented, and I always advise my clients to have many stakeholders involved in the risk assessment process, including:

  • Safety officer
  • Security manager
  • Facility manager
  • Infection Control manager
  • Nurse manager
  • Chief Nurse Executive
  • Risk manager
  • Etc.

Then, once the risk assessment is complete, I advise them to have it reviewed and approved by the Safety Committee, and get it in the minutes. Then, if ever challenged by a surveyor or inspector who thinks the doors should be locked, you can tell them:

  • There is no code or standard that requires the doors to be locked
  • An assessment to determine the level of risk to the patients was conducted by an interdisciplinary team of professionals who decided that the doors are not required to be locked (or are required to be locked, depending on the outcome of the risk assessment)
  • This risk assessment decision was affirmed by the organization’s Safety Committee and here are the minutes to indicate that

The risk assessment process is a great tool to use when decisive action is not clear, or when the codes and standards do not seem to address an issue very well. You can never go wrong with a risk assessment especially if many different professionals (who have the best interests for the safety of the patient at heart) agree on the conclusion.

One last thing… Risk assessments are not ‘forever’. They should be renewed once a year to see if any of the conditions have changed.