Dead Bolt Locks on Office Doors

Q: Does section of the 2012 edition of the LSC, which prohibits more than one releasing actions to operate the door apply to office doors within a healthcare occupancy? For example, the nurse manager’s office opens to the corridor, and she wants to place a deadbolt lock on the door. Does the addition of a deadbolt lock create a violation? Does egress from a single office require the same “single motion” requirement as the remainder of the path of egress?

A: Yes, it does. As long as the door (no matter where the door is located) is in the path of egress, then it must comply with and be operable with only one releasing motion. A door to an office qualifies as a door in the path of egress, because if you’re inside that office, the door in in your path to the way to get outdoors. Now, it is possible that if there were two entrances (doors) to the same office, you could designate one of the doors as being in the path of egress, and the other door as not being in the path of egress. This way, the door that is not in the path of egress could have a dead-bolt lock that requires more than one releasing motion, but that may not help you with this situation.

Please understand that since this requirement to have no more than one releasing operation to operate the door is found in chapter 7 of the 2012 LSC, it applies to all occupancies, with the exception of residential occupancies as the standard states. This means it applies to your medical office buildings, administrative buildings, clinics, and as well as your hospital. Deadbolt locks that operate separately from the door latch set just are not permitted.

The 2012 LSC section does allow existing conditions where two releasing operations on a door serving an area having an occupant load not exceeding three persons to remain. But that does not allow you to install locks on that door… it is only available for existing conditions.

Rest assured, there are multiple types of locks that are available for doors that can be operated with only one releasing motion. The most common includes a deadbolt that retracts when the door handle is operated, and those are commonly found in hotels. There are other types of locks that are incorporated into the door handle and will unlock the door when the door handle is turned.

Patient Sleeping Room Locks

Q: Are locks permitted on patient room doors? Where can I locate the NFPA requirements for adding new hardware to patient room doors?

A: Section of the 2012 Life Safety Code says locks are not permitted on patient sleeping room doors. Then, an exception to this standard says key-locking devices that restrict access to the room from the corridor and that are operable only by staff from the corridor side shall be permitted. Such devices shall not restrict egress from the room. What this means is you can lock the door to a patient sleeping room as long as the person on the inside of the room can open the door and get out.

However, before you think about adding deadbolt locks to existing doors, section of the same code says you cannot have more than one lock or latch to operate the door. This means a deadbolt lock that is separate from the door latch set is not permitted because it takes two actions to operate the door: 1) Unlock the lock, and; 2) Turn the latch set handle. What you can have is a lock that automatically unlocks the door when the latch set handle is turned. These are also called hotel suite locks, because they are common in hotels. There is a deadbolt that is integrated with the latch set, and a person may unlock the door by simply grasping the latch set handle and turning.

If by chance the door in question is a fire-rated door, according to NFPA 80 you are permitted to make minor changes to the door in order to install new hardware, provided the hardware is listed for use on a fire rated door assembly.

Dead-bolt Locks on Bathroom Doors

Q: I’ve read from your column that dead-bolt locks are not permitted on doors in hospitals, but I’ve seen in other facilities where dead-bolt locks are installed on bathroom doors. Is this permitted?

A: Actually, dead-bolt locks with a thumb-turn on the inside would be permitted on restroom doors, provided the doors to the restrooms are not positive latching. Restroom doors are not required to latch, therefore the larger restrooms rarely have positive latching hardware. Section of the 2000 Life Safety Code© says doors in the means of egress are not permitted to have more than one action to operate the door. If the door had a latch-set and a dead-bolt lock then that would not be permitted since it takes two actions to operate the door (unlock the dead-bolt and turn the latch-set). But since the bathroom door does not require a latch-set, then a dead-bolt lock that can be unlocked from the egress side would be permitted.

Strange Observations – Part 6

Door with Conflicting SIgnage Web 2Continuing in a series of strange things that I have seen while consulting at hospitals….

This series of pictures is just plain sad… and wrong. The top picture shows a door in the path of egress with an ‘Exit’ sign over it. If you look closely, there is a magnetic lock on this door and there is a sign posted on the door as well. This door is in an exit access corridor and lead from one physician’s office area to another physician’s office area and for some reason was equipped with a magnetic lock. But the magnetic lock did not qualify for the exceptions to of the 2000 LSC for delayed egress locks or access-control locks.

Take a look at the bottom picture… The picture is a close-up of the sign on the door. The sign says “This is not an exit…” but the ‘Exit’ sign over the door says “This is an exit”. That’s a conflict. To be sure, the door is an exit as this door was located in an exit access corridor and without the designated exit it would have been over a 100 foot dead-end corridor (which is not permitted). So, the exit is necessary.

But the conflicting signage is just wrong. Just because one physician’s office did not want people exiting into his area, you cannot lock the door and say the door is not an exit.

Close up of Door With Conflicting Signage Web 2I remember we tried to find out what actually releases the magnetic lock and the staff that I was with could not say. They said they were not sure if it released on a fire alarm and they checked with security and it did not release on any signal that security could transmit.

This is the type of deficiency that will lead to an Immediate Jeopardy decision and cause all sorts of headaches for a hospital.

Strange Observations – Part 4

Deadbolt on Exit Door Web 2Continuing in a series of strange things that I have seen while consulting at hospitals….

This is a picture of a door to an exit stairwell. Note that there is a deadbolt lock on the door above the fire exit hardware. That is so not allowed, according to of the 2000 LSC. You cannot lock a door in the path of egress that requires the use of a tool or a key. (There are some exceptions but this door does not qualify).

Also, the sign on the door indicates it is a delayed egress lock but it says the door can be opened in 30 seconds. Section allows for a 30 second delay but only when it is approved by the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ).  Most national AHJs for hospitals do not approve of the 30 second delay so this is not permitted. (Some hospitals mistakenly believe that the local or state fire marshal is the only AHJ they need to ask permission, but they don’t realize that the accreditation organizations and CMS are AHJs as well.) If you want to utilize an exception in the LSC whereby it is permitted with the AHJ’s permission, then you need to have permission from all the AHJs who have authority over hospitals:


  • CMS (Federal agency who controls Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements)
  • Accreditation organization
  • State agency who license hospitals
  • State fire marshal
  • Local fire inspector
  • Insurance company

The likelihood of getting all of them to agree on an exception to the LSC is slim, if not impossible.

Controlled Access Locks

Q: While conducting fire drills in the hospital, one of the questions on our drill evaluation sheet is, “Did the security doors in the fire zone release properly?” We have controlled areas where the doors are locked to control access into the unit. To exit the unit only requires the push of a button and the doors release. So are we in compliant with this controlled access not releasing during the fire alarm activation since the exit is not controlled? Or should the doors release to allow free entry and exits?

A: Doors in the path of egress in a healthcare occupancy are not permitted to be locked. However, there are three (3) exceptions to this requirement:

  • Delayed egress locks complying with section, 2000 LSC
  • Access-control locks complying with section
  • Clinical needs locks complying with section

By the sound of your situation, it appears to me that you do not have delayed egress locks and you do not have clinical needs locks, which leaves access-control locks. However, it also appears that your description of the security door locks may not be in compliance with section Here is a summary of the requirements for access-control locks:

  1. A motion sensor must be mounted on the egress side to detect occupants approaching the door, and automatically unlock the door in the direction of egress
  2. A loss of power to the control system automatically unlocks the door in the direction of egress
  3. A manual release button must be mounted 40 to 48 inches above the floor, and within 5 feet of the door, that when operated will directly interrupt the power to the lock, independent of the control system, for a minimum of 30 seconds. The button must be labeled with the words “PUSH TO EXIT”.
  4. The door must unlock in the direction of egress upon activation of the building fire alarm system or the building sprinkler system.

So, it appears to me that you are missing the motion sensor on the egress side of the door that would automatically unlock the door when someone approaches. Also, it sounds like your locks are not interconnected to the building fire alarm system to automatically unlock on an alarm. According to section, these are required. Also, check the ‘PUSH TO EXIT” button to make sure it interrupts power to the locks for a minimum of 30 seconds, when depressed.

Expert Witness

imagesXLH1EQVPI received a telephone call recently from a lawyer that asked me if I would be willing to serve as an expert witness in a pending litigation suit. The situation of the lawsuit is a patient who was admitted to the inpatient psychiatric unit of a hospital busted the protective cover over the fire alarm manual pull station, and activated the fire alarm system. The entrance doors to the psychiatric unit unlocked on the fire alarm, and the patient ran out, climbed to the roof of the facility and jumped off.

Now the family of the patient is suing the hospital and the fire alarm company who installed the interface between the door locks and the fire alarm system. The plaintiff’s lawyer is arguing that the interface should never have been installed and the doors should not have unlocked upon activation of the fire alarm system. I agree with the plaintiff’s lawyer, but the problem is, it was the defense’s lawyer who contacted me.

The two major codes and standards that apply in this situation are the NFPA 72 National Fire Alarm Code (1999 edition), and the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code (2000 edition). The Life Safety Code (LSC) allows clinical needs locks on doors in the path of egress, but only in healthcare occupancies (hospitals). They are not permitted in any other occupancy. These types of locks are permitted where the “clinical needs of the patients require specialized security measures for their safety, provided that staff can readily unlock such doors at all times”. Clinical needs locks are permitted for Behavioral Health units, such as psychiatric and Alzheimer units, to prevent patients from leaving the unit unauthorized, and potentially harming themselves or others.  Clinical needs locks requires all staff who work on that unit (which includes physicians, nurses, aids, clerical, maintenance, foodservice, housekeeping, etc.) to have a key or device to unlock the door on their person at all times. [Code reference:, Exception No. 1, 2000 edition of the LSC].

But when it comes to connecting those clinical needs locks to the fire alarm system so they automatically unlock on a fire alarm activation, the codes are not so clear. Other permissible locks, such as delayed egress locks and access control locks, are required by code to be connected to the fire alarm system and automatically unlock the door whenever there is an alarm. However, there is no such similar language for clinical needs locks to unlock on an alarm. In addition, NFPA 72 section 3-9.7.1 and 3-9.7.2 says if you have a lock on an exit door it must be connected to the fire alarm system, and it must unlock the door on a fire alarm. However, the exception to 3-9.7.2 essentially says this is not required if an AHJ says so, or if another code says so. So, we go back to the Life Safety Code, and we see that delayed egress locks and access control locks are required to unlock on an alarm, but the section on clinical needs locks is very silent on the subject. When a code is silent on a subject that means it is open for interpretation. Therefore, section 3-9.7 of NFPA 72 does not apply to clinical needs locks in a hospital, because the interpretation Life Safety Code permits it. It is documented that psychiatric patients are astute enough to actuate a fire alarm to unlock the exit doors. Therefore, the code is available to be interpreted in such a way to not require clinical needs locks to unlock the doors in the path of egress on activation of the fire alarm system provided all staff carry a key to unlock the door in case of an emergency.

But who makes that interpretation? Usually the authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) makes that interpretation. Section of the 2000 LSC says the AHJ shall determine whether the provisions of the LSC are met. But when the AHJ does not issue an interpretation, then it is up to the individual organization’s to decide. As far as I know, there is no national AHJ for healthcare that has it written in their standards that clinical needs locks should not be connected to the fire alarm system. Therefore, the hospital needs to ask the question: Based on the potential risk to patient safety, is it best to connect the door locks on the psychiatric unit to the fire alarm system so they unlock upon activation of the fire alarm system?

I declined the offer to be an expert witness for the defense, and suggested they settle the lawsuit out of court.

Main Lobby Locked Doors

Q: We have a separate building on our campus that includes our behavioral health unit, along with related offices and meeting rooms for the support staff. The behavioral health unit is segregated from the offices and meeting rooms and patients would never be in these offices or meeting rooms. There are secured doors preventing the patients from entering the main lobby area. The path of egress for the offices and meeting rooms is through the main lobby. This is a secured facility, so much so that the egress doors from the main lobby of the facility are locked with the use of electronic mag-locks. The only way the doors will release is through one of the three methods: Swipe an employee badge to release the mag-locks; a person in the cubicle to push a button to release the mag-locks; or when the fire alarm system is activated. Are we in compliance with the Life Safety Code with our mag-lock doors for egress concerns in our lobby?

A: It does not appear that you are. As you state, the behavioral health unit is segregated from the rest of the facility by secured doors and the path of egress for the offices and meeting rooms is through the main lobby, so locking those egress doors would not be permitted. Section of the 2000 Life Safety Code does not allow doors in the path of egress to be locked. The exceptions to allow delayed egress locks and access-control locks, but in this case, it does not appear that you could use clinical needs locks on doors in the path of egress that are shared by the offices and meeting rooms.

Typically, authorities having jurisdiction do not allow clinical needs locks on more than one set of doors in the path of egress for behavioral health units. You could install delayed egress locks on the main lobby egress doors as long as the entire facility is either sprinklered or protected with detectors. A card-swipe reader could be installed to deactivate the delayed egress function so people could exit without activating the delayed egress alarm. Or, you could install access-control locks on the doors, although they really are not locks for people egressing. Follow the requirements for delayed egress and access-control locks found in sections and of the 2000 Life Safety Code.

Infant Abduction Locks

Hospitals want to keep their nurseries, mother/baby units, and pediatric units secure, so they lock the doors. This causes a problem with the Life Safety Code because you can’t lock the doors in the path of egress in a hospital, other than three exceptions: 1) Clinical needs locks, which nurseries, mother/baby units, and pediatric units do not qualify; 2) Delayed egress locks; and 3) Access-control locks. Access-control locks really do not lock the door in the path of egress because a motion sensor will automatically unlock the door as a person approaches. So, in this situation the doors can only be locked using the delayed egress provision (found in section of the 2000 Life Safety Code).

But hospitals want the infant security systems used on the babies. These systems have a bracelet that is attached to the baby, and some have bracelets to attach to the mother as well. If the bracelet gets too close to the exit door, an alarm will sound and the door will lock. The problem is, these infant security systems do not comply with any of the three exceptions for locking the doors in the path of egress, listed above. Even if the doors will unlock on a fire alarm the hospital says, that is still not enough to qualify for the any of the three exceptions.

But then the hospital says their accreditation organization approved this door locking arrangement. Why should it be considered non-compliant if the accreditor allows it?  Sorry… just because the accreditation organization says it is okay, still does not make it compliant with the requirements of the Life Safety Code. When the state agency who surveys on behalf of CMS takes a look at it, they will not be as benevolent as the accreditor, and they will cite it as a deficiency.

So, to be compliant with the Life Safety Code, when the doors lock because the bracelet gets too close to the door sensor, the doors should lock into a delayed egress mode (again… see section in the 2000 Life Safety Code). Then it would be legal. But the 2012 LSC has made a change in this area and will allow locks on doors for the specialized protective measures for the safety of the occupants (see section 18/ in the 2012 LSC). This will allow you to lock the doors without delayed egress, provided you meet the requirements listed in that section. CMS has already approved categorical waivers to allow hospitals to begin using this new section of the 2012 LSC before they adopt it.

Take a look at your locks that are used on the nurseries, pediatric, mother/baby units, and even the ICUs and the ERs. If they are not delayed egress, then take a look at the CMS categorical waivers and consider modifying the doors to meet those requirements.

Door Locks

Q: We have been asked to install a lock on a door in the path of egress through an office. For security reasons they would like to lock the doors to and from this area. We are thinking of using an electric strike fail safe connected to fire alarm on both doors. This is not in a patient care area, and the doors would only be used by staff.

A: In a hospital, there are only three permissible methods to lock a door in the path of egress: 1) Delayed egress; 2) Access-control; and 3) Clinical needs. Let’s eliminate clinical needs right off the bat, as that refers to a behavioral health unit or an Alzheimer’s unit. Delayed egress may be a possibility, but the hospital needs to be fully sprinklered or fully smoke detected, and you cannot have more than one delayed egress lock in the path of egress to the public way. Delayed egress does not provide true security for the doors, just a 15 second delay which if activated can be very annoying to the staff. I don’t see this as a suitable arrangement.  The more logical approach is the access-control locks, which allows you to provide security to prevent unauthorized individuals from entering the space, but it does not prevent anyone from exiting the space. Section of the 2000 edition of the Life Safety Code describes the requirements for access-controlled egress:

  • A sensor must be installed on the egress side of the door to detect an occupant approaching the door and automatically unlock the door. This sensor must also be wired where a loss of power to the sensor unlocks the door.
  • A loss of power to the access-control system must unlock the door.
  • A manual release ‘Push to Exit’ button must be installed on the egress side of the door, 40 – 48 inches above the floor, and within 5 feet of the door. The manual release button must be labeled with a sign that reads ‘Push to Exit’. When operated, the manual release button must directly interrupt power to the lock independent of the access-control system, and the door must remain unlocked for a minimum of 30 seconds.
  • Activation of the building’s fire alarm system and/or sprinkler system must unlock the door, and remain unlocked until the fire alarm system has been manually reset.

Access-control locks do not provide any security in the path of egress. In your question, you stated that the door in question is in the path of egress. If that is truly the case, then there is no way you can legally lock this door. I would advise the hospital to re-configure their walls and path of egress to allow the office space they desire without locking a door in the path of egress. Another issue to consider: Is the door in question required to latch? If so, then access-control locks cannot be used in lieu of latching. Even though the door may be locked by a mag-lock, it still needs to latch (if required). The phrase “fail safe” means different things to different people. Typically, for locksmiths ‘fail safe’ means when power is removed, the locks remain locked, but for fire safety people the phrase ‘fail safe’ means the lock remains unlocked.