Preparing for a Fire Safety Inspection: What you need to know.
Businesses need to be prepared at all times for unscheduled fire safety inspections. Fire inspectors are liable to drop by when they are least expected to fully assess a building’s working and safety conditions. This allows inspectors to see the conditions during a typical day, to avoid managers concealing faults only when they know an inspection is looming.
Fire safety inspectors evaluate the following areas:
- Potential fire hazards, there is a wide range of possible hazards that inspectors must account for such as electrical components, flammable materials, and excess clutter.
- Safety systems, such as smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, and sprinkler systems. It is standard practice for the inspector to request documentation on the maintenance of these systems.
- Egress systems, such as lighted exit signs and exit doors. Inspectors will ensure these components operate effectively as intended.
- Emergency personnel access. Inspectors will ensure that emergency personnel has easy, immediate accessto the building in case of an emergency.
Businesses should focus on the following areas to guarantee success on their next fire safety inspection.
1. Preventing Fires from Starting
The top priority for any business regarding fire safety should be prevention. One of the most common causes of fires in office spaces is a result of electrical system malfunction. Companies can protect against this with ongoing maintenance of electrical systems and proper insulation. Electrical systems should be inspected at least once a year, or as required by local ordinances.
2. Maintaining Safety Systems
Businesses are expected to properly maintain all fire safety systems to ensure reliability. These safety systems are made to assist with detecting, containing, and putting out fires. This includes smoke alarms for detecting fires, fire doors that shut close automatically when the fire alarm system activates, and sprinkler systems that douse fires. All these fire safety systems are critical for reducing the devastation of fires. Fire safety systems typically receive regular, official, fire safety inspections. To pass these inspections, business managers must guarantee that all systems have their batteries and other components replaced as needed.
3. Facilitating Building Egress
Safety systems focus on preventing fires and reducing their spread. However, they do not facilitate the egress of all building occupants. Therefore, directional exit lighting and illuminated exit signs are so critical to fire safety. These features allow occupants to exit a building quickly and safely in case of a fire.
To facilitate and safe exit for all personnel, stairwells and exit hallways should consistently remain free from obstruction, and doors should remain unlocked wherever possible. When doors must be locked, they should only prevent entry and not exit. In these cases, it must be easy for a single person to exit without the use of specialized knowledge, strength, or keys.
4. Facilitating Emergency Personnel Entry
The final component to fire safety is facilitating emergency personnel access. Businesses are required to guarantee that firefighters and emergency personnel locate and enter the building with ease. This can be achieved by displaying the building address prominently (as required by the IFC), clearing fire lanes, and ensuring access to fire hydrants and building keys. Select local fire departments may participate in a “Lock Box” program. In these cases, it is imperative to ensure that any changes made to the keys for the facility are reflected in this box as well. It can be very helpful to maintain open communication with your local fire department regarding these systems.
Preparing for a Fire Safety Inspection: Your Fire Inspection Checklist
Your fire safety inspection checklist should include the following features:
- Collect copies of historical inspection reports.
- Collect proof of system maintenance services and previous inspections.
- Set appointments for regular safety systems maintenance.
- Set appointments for regular heat systems maintenance.
- Carefully handle special hazards.
- Clear hallways and stairwells.
- Proper storage of flammable and combustible materials
- Separate incompatible materials in storage.
- Guarantee quick and easy entry for the fire department.
- Ensure access to water by the fire department.
- Properly label and maintain electrical system components.
- Appropriately use extension cords
- Proper use of power strips.
- Visible exit signs and directional lighting.
- Accessible fire extinguisher(s)
- Clearance of sprinkler head
- Postage of any required signage.
By paying careful attention to these items before your fire inspection, you will increase your chances of passing the test and remaining in compliance with fire safety regulations.
1. Set Regular Appointments for Safety Systems Maintenance
Maintenance of safety systems can only be achieved with assistance from reputable, licensed contractors. Inspection, testing, and maintenance (ITM) of these systems is often a complex process and requires trained professionals with significant experience in the industry.
The company or contractor that provides these inspection services should be able to consistently complete or coordinate installation and repair services. This entity should also be expected to provide detailed documentation of any problems they encountered and their solutions. Many companies can perform several aspects of ITM in a single service. This includes inspecting emergency lighting, exit signs, fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems, and fire alarms.
2. Set Appointments for Regular Heat Systems Maintenance
A key component to fire safety is the proper maintenance of all heat-generating appliances. This includes furnaces, boilers, stoves, radiators, ovens, and other heat-producing, manufacturing equipment. Businesses that incorporate kitchen settings are especially liable to perform these types of safety measures. All cooking appliances should have the appropriate hoods and hood suppression systems for their type. These systems also require ongoing maintenance.
3. Study Previous Inspection Reports
Acquiring historical inspection reports for your building will make a good first impression with your designated fire safety inspector. This shows that you are proactive and that your company is invested in staying up to code. You can further prove this effort by providing documentation to the safety inspector of the steps taken by the company to address previous violations.
4. Collect Documentation of Performed System Maintenance and Inspections
Collecting documentation of all servicing and maintenance of your fire alarms, fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems, and fire pumps is required by fire safety regulations. Furthermore, it is necessary to collect paperwork showing that any generators have been serviced by a licensed professional within the required timeframe, typically the past year.
How often should your safety systems be inspected for fire safety? Depending on the type of system, fire alarms are typically serviced either annually, semiannually, or quarterly.
In businesses with kitchen features, collecting the necessary paperwork to prove your cooking hoods, if applicable, have been serviced by a licensed professional within the required timeframe (typically over six months for standard cooking operations).
5. Intensive Care for Special Hazards
Special hazards encompass gasoline pumps, computer server rooms, chemical storage areas, and other settings with a high concentration of flammable or combustible materials. These areas and components must receive intensive care and oversight.
6. Proper Storage of Flammable and Combustible Materials
Flammable and combustible materials are mandated to be stored a certain distance from the ceiling. This prevents accidents wherein the material falls from a high point and breaks open. These materials are further regulated to be kept in approved containers that are in good condition and properly labeled. Additionally, each state has a maximum amount of each type of material that can be stored in a building.
These hazardous items must be kept away from rooms where heat is produced, such as electrical rooms and boiler rooms. Furthermore, they should be kept away from appliances that produce heat such as microwaves, coffeemakers, ovens, stoves, portable heaters, or any other heat-producing device.
7. Separate Incompatible Chemicals in Storage
Incompatible materials are those that if combined could potentially combust or produce toxic fumes. For example, ammonia and bleach, if combined will create fumes that can be potentially fatal if inhaled. These chemicals must be separated at all times, especially in storage. The standard minimum distance is typical, at least 20 feet. However, the distance is considered nonessential if the substances are separated by a noncombustible partition that extends at least 18 inches above and the incompatible chemicals.
8. Clearly Label and Consistently Maintain Electrical Systems
All electrical panels must properly label their circuits as to their function and location. Furthermore, electrical panels must have an unobstructed space of at least 30 inches in front of them. This ensures that any person can easily reach them and shut them off in an emergency. Electrical rooms cannot be used for any purpose other than housing electrical components and there should not be storage of any kind. All electrical outlets and circuit panels must feature operable plate covers.
9. Appropriately Use Extension Cords
Extension cords should be kept in good working condition and should be immediately disposed of if any splits or frays are visible. Cords should have the capacity for heavy-duty use, remain grounded, and only be used temporarily with small appliances. If multiple appliances are plugged into a surge protector, the power strip must feature built-in circuit breakers.
Heavy-duty machinery such as laundry machines or refrigerators should never be plugged into an extension cord. This would be a clear fire code violation. Electrical cords should never be stapled or pinned to the wall, as this poses a risk for breaching the hardware. Additionally, cords should never be hidden under a rug or used as substitutes for permanent wiring.
10. Ensuring All Computers Have Power Strips
Computers should always be plugged into surge protectors equipped with built-in circuit breakers. Built-in circuit breakers are critical to reducing the risk of electrical fires. These are referred to as “power taps” in fire safety codes and should be plugged directly into a wall outlet.
11. Clear Hallways and Stairwells
It is essential to maintain optimal exit strategies within a building. To facilitate this, a buildings’ exit route must remain free of clutter, debris, or other obstruction. Failing to do so is one of the most common reasons that a business will fail its inspections. For example, a business might store items in a hallway that leads to an emergency exit door. In the case of a fire, these items could limit the flow of traffic out of the building, and therefore must be removed to pass inspection. All exit doors and hallways should be always kept unobstructed.
Stairwells and corridors should also feature upgraded components such as fire doors and latch release mechanisms to further guarantee a quick and seamless exit by the building occupants.
12. Guarantee Fire Department Accessibility
Emergency personnel must be granted quick and easy access to your building to perform their jobs effectively. Ensuring this reality will include clearly labeling the building with its address numbers in a manner that can be seen from the road. Additionally, fire lanes must remain unobstructed at all times.
According to national fire safety codes, all buildings must provide firefighters with “safe and immediate access”. An easy way to comply with this code is to participate in “Lock Box” programs with your local fire department. In these programs, lockboxes that contain all the necessary keys for a building are placed on their buildings’ exteriors. In case of a fire, the fire department can open the lockboxes with a master key that is compatible with all lockboxes involved in the program.
13. Make Sure the Fire Department Can Access Water
Fire hydrants must be marked and available for emergency use. To be considered as “accessible” fire hydrants must have at least three feet of clear space on all sides. The most common way that this regulation is violated is by improper parking of employee cars. Forbidding this dangerous practice is imperative for fire safety and passing inspections. Furthermore, all buildings are equipped with a fire department connection (FDC) that supplies water to a sprinkler system. These connections must be clearly labeled and unobstructed for fire department access during an emergency.
14. Ensure Sprinkler Head Clearance
Sprinkler heads must maintain 18 inches of clearance. Protecting the space surrounding overhead sprinkler systems allows them to distribute water effectively. Buildings that are not equipped with sprinklers must maintain a 24″ of clearance from ceiling to top of storage at a minimum.
15. Maintain Directional Lighting and Exit Signs
Emergency lights and exit signs are crucial for the safe exiting of building occupants during the event of a fire. These fire safety components must have both regular power and backup power. Most commonly exit signs and emergency lighting systems are hooked up to a battery or generator backups.
16. Understand Fire Extinguisher Guidelines
The mandatory number and placement of fire extinguishers are strictly regulated by local and national fire safety codes. The placement requirements are largely determined by the square footage of an area and the rating of the extinguisher in that area. Business owners and managers should understand these guidelines to ensure compliance. Fire extinguisher locations should be marked and remain easily accessible to all building occupants.
17. Post All Mandatory Signs
There should be visible signage throughout the building that directs towards the best escape pathways. These signs must be visible in every major area of the building.
Additionally, signs that alert occupants of doors that must remain unlocked should be posted in their appropriate location. The front door must always have the ability to open from the inside. This prevents anyone from getting trapped in the building during a fire.
Rooms that are designated for assembly, must display a permanent sign that dictates the maximum occupancy of that room. This sign must be legible and posted conspicuously at the main doorway.
Near the elevators, a sign must be posted that informs people to use the stairs, not the elevator, in case of an emergency. This is imperative because elevators can malfunction during a fire and trap occupants inside.
Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst
No matter how well prepared you are for a fire safety inspection, an inspector may find a violation that you missed. In this circumstance, business owners and managers should be ready to ask the inspector for the timeline that is allowed for making corrections. Another important factor is understanding who is responsible for getting the building into compliance. This could be the property manager, the business owner, or the building owner. The person responsible is determined by local regulations and may be explicitly outlined in lease agreements or other ownership documentation.
Fire Safety Inspections Save Lives
While fire inspections may seem unnecessary and inconvenient, they serve an incredibly important purpose. That is to prevent the loss of property and more importantly to prevent the loss of life. Fire inspection can be tedious, but the devastation that fires can cause could ultimately destroy your business or even someone’s family.