The COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all. The Division of the Fire Marshal (DFM), Office of Research Services, wants to remind everyone not to inadvertently create fire code violations while addressing pandemic issues.
Below are some violations that have been encountered recently by fire marshals throughout the country, methods for preventing such issues to protect NIH staff, patients, and research, and means of reporting them if they occur. All are Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations. In health care areas, these are citable by The Joint Commission.
Propped Open Fire Doors
Occupants may be tempted to prop open fire doors to preclude the need to touch handles. These doors protect stairs, labs, etc. to contain fire and smoke. If propped open, occupants can be in danger using stairs to evacuate and lab research can be threatened by fire spread. Keep these doors closed and use disposable gloves or a paper towel to grab door handles.
Storage or Equipment in Corridors
With deliveries of materials and equipment being more sporadic and staffing at a minimum, it may seem convenient to place these items in corridors. This can reduce the width available for egress, causing longer evacuation times. When the material is combustible, it can fuel a corridor fire large enough to trap occupants. In lab areas, multiple research activities could be exposed to a single corridor fire. Fire equipment like extinguishers and pull stations could also be blocked. See the NIH Corridor Policy in Manual Chapter 1361: https://policymanual.nih.gov/1361.
Blocked or Locked Exits
With additional security measures in place to protect against COVID-19 spread, occupants may use noncompliant methods to block access; for example, barricades, temporary walls, carts, and noncompliant locks. All exit doors must remain available for evacuation even if locked from the outside for security. Remember that exits are used for emergencies other than fires, including active shooters and hazardous materials incidents. In certain cases, entire portions of buildings can be locked off if not occupied. The DFM and the Division of Physical Security Management are happy to consult on locking solutions. Here is an OSHA fast sheet on exits: https://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_General_Facts/emergency-exit-routes-factsheet.pdf.
During the current COVID-19 pandemic we all can work together to ensure a safe and secure work environment for all NIH visitors and staff. Help us to help you – both by preventing these hazardous situations and reporting them if they occur.
You may report hazards on the Bethesda campus by calling DFM at 301-496-0487 or using the fire hazard reporting tool DFM website: https://www.ors.od.nih.gov/ser/dfm/Pages/Community-Complaint-Report.aspx. You may remain anonymous when reporting a hazard, but it always helps us to have a contact so we can obtain additional information if needed.