It’s important for building and business owners to understand their responsibilities regarding fire safety and code compliance. In part one of a two-part series, we highlight steps you can take to ensure your building is both up to code and safe for you and your employees, customers, and other visitors.
Fire safety inspections — what to look for
Most insurers and local governments require at least an annual inspection to verify that commercial buildings and their occupants are protected by the existing fire control methods. This list includes but is not limited to maintaining required fire extinguishers, keeping egress and exits clear, and performing all required inspections, testing, and maintenance necessary to keep any fire protection systems — such as standpipes, fire department connections, fire sprinklers, and fire alarms — working. Not all buildings have all of these systems, of course. But when they do, this equipment must be maintained. And ultimately, all commercial buildings have some fire safety code requirements, and both business and building owners have legal responsibilities for the safety of the premises.
If you don’t have a dedicated fire safety team — and most small and medium-sized businesses don’t — you could be subject to unforeseen repairs or expensive fines if deficiencies are cited by the local fire inspector. Your business could even be closed down until any problems are corrected and the repairs are re-inspected. But fortunately, there are some fairly simple, mostly inexpensive steps that a small business owner can take periodically to help ensure a good annual inspection.
If it has been some time since you performed an inspection or had one done by a third party, or you’ve recently purchased a building, here are some things to consider. First, know what the codes require in your local area. Your state or local fire marshal and some insurers can furnish you with a checklist. While every jurisdiction may have area-specific codes, in general, they usually must follow OSHA rules along with locally adopted versions of ICC and NFPA model codes and standards.
So, while every building is usually subject to some state/local versions of NFPA 101: Life Safety Code, NFPA 1: Fire Code, or the International Building Code (IBC), all of which inform rules for commercial structures, buildings with a fire sprinkler system, for example, must also follow the rules in NFPA 25: Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems. So, the first step is to determine which rules and documents apply to your building and systems based on local codes.
In addition, it’s vital to keep a record of when and what is inspected. You can use a checklist or standard form, if available, or create your own form, noting any deficiencies for correction and always dating and signing it. Keep the documents safely stored and accessible. When you use a third-party inspector, be sure you get a copy of their report and review it closely to ensure it meets your building’s obligations.
Common areas for fire safety deficiencies
The code requirements for various buildings and their fire protection systems can be fairly extensive, and there are too many scenarios to list in a blog. But here are some of the more common things that inspectors cite as problems:
- Lack of accessibility to fire lanes, fire alarm panels, and fire department connections. Make sure that FDCs, standpipes, panels, and valves are not blocked by things like trash containers, vehicle parking, construction debris, outside storage containers, or machinery. You can mark the required clearances (check with authorities for the minimum requirements) with yellow tape or painted lines inside the building, install guards, and use appropriate signage to remind everyone to keep both inside and outside areas clear.
- Combustible items should be kept out of areas that contain electrical connections or open flames. Things like cleaning rags or paper towels, lavatory supplies, and flammable aerosols or solvents should be properly stored in approved storage areas.
- Check that all portable fire extinguishers have been inspected as required (usually every 12 months) and that they are in the green or operating range. When having portable fire extinguishers serviced, do not allow the vendor to remove your extinguishers from the building without leaving replacements.
- Check all exit and emergency signage and replace any burnt-out bulbs or dead batteries.
- Be sure emergency exits operate properly (including sounding an alarm when opened) and are accessible at all times. Never allow exits to be blocked or locked to prevent exit during normal business hours.
- Depending on the codes in your area, there may be restrictions on the use of small appliances, extension cords, and multi-plug adapters. Find and remove any such items and caution employees about their use.
- Keep the building in good repair. Damaged or missing doors and holes in walls or ceilings should be repaired or replaced to minimize the spread of fire from room to room.
- If accessible, check sprinkler heads for damage and obstructions, and keep storage such as racks or boxes away from sprinkler heads and ceilings (at least 18″ of clearance is needed for most fire sprinkler types). Know what the minimum clearance is for ceilings, panels, manifolds, standpipes, and portable extinguisher stations, and keep those areas clear. Make sure that there is no buildup of cobwebs, dust, and other debris on the walls and ceilings.
- Check cords and electrical connections on equipment and approved appliances for fraying and damage from cuts or traffic.
- Make sure that your address is clearly visible from any vehicle access area. Paint or mount large letters with your address prominently displayed on the outside of the building and make sure the address is visible to emergency vehicle drivers. Remember that fire equipment is taller than the average car or pickup and mount your address accordingly, observing local codes.
Again, these are common, basic requirements, and buildings with specific systems have many specific inspection, testing, and maintenance tasks that must be completed, usually by a fire protection contractor. Nevertheless, the above list covers some common issues. You can read these QRFS blogs to learn about more routine inspection failures:
- Common Fire Code Violations from the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ)
- NFPA 25: The 10 Most Common Fire Safety System Compliance Issues and How to Avoid Them, Part 1
- NFPA 25: 10 Most Common Fire Sprinkler System Compliance Issues and How to Avoid Them, Part 2
Note that contracting with a qualified third-party inspection service is standard and typically needed to maintain any complex fire protection systems in a building. To learn what to look for in a contractor, read part two of this series!
If you have any questions or need help finding an item, contact us at (888) 361-6662 or firstname.lastname@example.org.