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Designing or Renovating? Not Without Your Life Safety Consultant

Published on 8/21/2015

If there's one expert you want on board early during the design phase of a new addition or new facility, it's a code and/or life safety expert.

Yet all too often, healthcare projects go through the early design phases without bringing in a code, life safety or any other healthcare specific consultant to review the plans.

What's the big deal? Consider that this oversight can potentially result in major reworking of the floor plan late in the design stage, leading to massive costs and scheduling delays for the building owner. These life safety experts should be a part of concept meetings to offer their early input on egress plans, existing conditions, occupancy concerns, effects of multiple codes of record on the project and separation/compartmentation concepts.

The same advice applies to renovation projects. Using an existing life safety plan as a basis for even minor renovations can potentially lead to problems down the road. Many fire protection plans identify areas required by the Life Safety Code - areas that may not reflect the existing building. Have the plans been adjusted in the past to identify existing requirements? And are those updates based on the original floor plans?

It's entirely possible that the originally provided life safety features are no longer identified on your plans. An example of this is a life safety plan created for an existing facility that simply identifies the requirements of an existing floor based upon the sections within Chapter 19 of the Life Safety Code - 2000 edition without looking historically at the construction.

A plan could be developed such that an existing floor with less than 30 sleeping rooms is not identified as having a smoke barrier - and on the surface would be compliant with section

However, if this floor had undergone a major renovation in previous years, the intent of the code is for that renovation to comply with the requirements for a new health care occupancy. For a new health care occupancy, a smoke barrier would have been required to separate the floor into at least two smoke compartments as per section Therefore, while the floor may have existed when the new life safety plan was developed, a historical review would have identified the requirement for the floor to comply with provisions for the new construction.

While your life safety consultant can be an important resource, remember, they're not the be-all and end-all for a project's life safety requirements. No, that's your authority having jurisdiction. By involving the AHJs - whether they be local building/fire officials, the State Department of Health or your facility's accrediting agency - early on in the project, you'll be able to clearly identify any codes and requirements that your project must meet.

About the Author: 
Eric Babcock is director of the New York-Armonk Office for Jensen Hughes.