en-Gauge Fire and Life Safety Blog

Top Fire Code Violations in Hospitals and How to Stay in Compliance.

Posted by Brendan McSheffrey on 8/1/13 2:51 PM

In facilities as large and complex as hospitals, there are many potential fire safety issues as well as numerous hidden code violations.  Fire-code-complianceRecently, we read a report by the State Fire Marshal of Washington State that outlined the most common violations that have been found in hospitals.  Many of these infractions could possibly start a fire or prevent people from safely escaping in an emergency situation.  We wrote up a brief rundown highlighting some of the more serious instances that occur regularly in healthcare establishments in the US.  Amongst other violations, there were minor problems ranging from burned out light bulbs in exit signs to missing ceiling tiles.  One of the biggest challenges that hospital administrators are faced with is staying up to date with code regulations; we at enGauge take those headaches away.  We’ve taken the time to boil down some of the most cited issues that peaked our interest.  

Extension Cords

The number one most common problem that was cited in the report revolved around extension cords.  Not having enough outlets to power all of our devices is something we’ve all encountered, and it is not uncommon to daisychain or piggyback powerstrips and extension cords together to get electricity where we need it.  This is a huge safety concern and is responsible for many of the fires that happen both in the home and office.   The report mentioned that several of the hospitals were using extension cords and powerstrips in place of permanent wiring.  You don’t need to be a state fire marshal to know that extension cords aren’t a full-time solution.  Similar issues that created fire hazards included obstructing electrical panels, open junction boxes, mislabelling electric circuit boxes, and the use of portable heaters without tip-over switches.

Fire Door Compliance

Having operational fire doors is a crucial part of keeping facilities safe, ...but what’s the point in having these special doors if you aren’t properly using them?  Fire doors (often made from steel or solid-bonded core wood) are capable of resisting fire for at least 20 minutes when properly shut. The fire marshal found that many of these fire doors did not close and/or latch properly; completely defeating the purpose of them to begin with!   Having a wall that can physically stop a fire is an undeniably valuable asset in an emergency situation.  Other problems that the fire marshal cited included the fire doors being wedged open with doorstops or propped open with equipment by hospital staff.  They also observed many “fire proof” doors with holes in them, which would allow fire and smoke to penetrate through them in an emergency, rendering them useless. Working fire doors allow hospital staff time to evacuate patients, supplies, as well as themselves.  They are an integral part of a facility’s safety plan and (when used properly) can save lives.

Fire Exit Obstruction Compliance

In case of an emergency, people need to be able to get out as quickly and safely as possible.  Fire code dictates that all exists should be free of furnishings, equipment, or decorations.  The marshal found that this was not being upheld and instead saw numerous instances of carts, wheelchairs, and medical appliances blocking emergency exits.  In a real emergency, staff and patients would not have the luxury of time to move obstructions from doorways.  Cluttered corridors and exitways may make it impossible for patients in wheelchairs or beds to be wheeled out to safety.  enGauge can help hospitals avoid these risks and lower the instances of non-compliance with automated obstruction monitoring systems, so that there is always a clear point of escape in case of an emergency situation.

Hand Sanitizer

This one particularly “sparked” our interest.  If you’ve been to a hospital in the last 10 years you know that ABHR (or Alcohol Based Hand Rubs) are everywhere.  Every turn you take there are countless standing up hand sanitizers or wall mounted pumps.  While we enjoy these because of their germ killing abilities, the alcohol base in it is a significant fire hazard.  According to fire safety code, dispensers may not be placed near possible ignition sources (electrical outlets, light switches, circuit boards etc.,) because of the danger that they could cause if ignited.  The code states that corridors must be at least 6 feet wide, so in case a dispenser does catch on fire the hallway isn’t completely blocked.  In addition to this, the law states that no more than 10 gallons may be kept in the same area.  

Gas Cylinders and Medical Oxygen Compliance

Branching off of the fire hazard that hand sanitizers impose, gas cylinders such as medical O2 tanks are very dangerous too.  These tanks are often times filled with flammable gas, and in the case of a fire too many tanks in the same vicinity could turn into a massive explosion.  The fire marshal found that many times these tanks were stored improperly or unsecured.  Using automated solutions, like enGauge’s RTLS enabled medical oxygen monitoring system can not only better protect your facility, but can also provide an extremely rapid return-on-investment by saving you lots of money.  It pays to know where your oxygen supplies are, which are full and which are empty.  It eliminates the need for your staff to spend time trying to find full tanks, it saves on over ordering costs, and it significantly lowers the number of tanks you need in your hospital.  And, oh yeah, it keeps you in compliance.

Portable Fire Extinguisher Compliance

Last but not least fire extinguishers.  The number of citations that they gave out surrounding portable extinguishers was significant.  There were violations (in equal numbers) for missing, obstructed, improperly mounted, previously discharged, past due for inspections, improperly signed and not enough fire extinguishers.  Without fire extinguishers, a small outlet fire can quickly become an uncontainable building-wide blaze.  In a recent study it was found that in 81.5% of fire incidents the portable extinguisher successfully extinguished the fire and in 74.6% of the cases the fire department was not required to attend.  In order to stay safe and keep your facility up to code, fire extinguisher monitoring systems can be used to assure that there is always an extinguisher ready.  

Other Violations

There were many other common problems that fire marshal found throughout hospitals

while conducting their inspections.  Most cited were issues pertaining to the sprinkler systems that were installed around the various facilities.  Many areas were found to have insufficient sprinkler protection, missing sprinkler heads, obstructed sprinkler heads, or damaged or otherwise compromised sprinkler heads.   Other citations included electrical issues, burned out bulbs in exit lights, mislabelling of emergency exits, gaps around piping, frayed cables, and missing ceiling tiles.

Fire code (and fire inspections) may seem like an unnecessary burden, but that is only because fire codes (and fire inspections) have been so successful in lowering the risk of fire we all deal with in our everyday lives.  Staying compliant with fire and safety codes and ensuring the tenants in your facility are safe is what enGauge does.  Contact us today if you want to learn more about how we keep people safe.  

Topics: Healthcare, Fire Extinguisher Inspections, Fire Extinguisher Inspection, Blocked Fire Extinguishers, Electronic Monitoring Fire Extinguisher, Fire Extinguisher Monitoring, Inaccessible Fire Extinguisher, NFPA 10 Code Compliance, Missing Fire Extinguisher, Empty Fire Extinguisher, Fire Marshals, Medical Oxygen Monitoring