Life Safety

The potential for injury as the result of an emergency evacuation should not be overlooked in places of public assembly. These incidents act as a reminder of the importance of having safety codes and standards in place when it is necessary to quickly and safely evacuate public areas. Some general places of assembly can include churches, movie theaters, restaurants, retail stores, office buildings, hotels, or any other place attracting persons to the premises.

Building a life safety program/system involves the construction, protection, and occupancy features necessary to minimize danger from fire, smoke, fumes or panic in a public setting. This topic not only applies to new buildings but also existing buildings and structures.

To ensure safe and adequate means of egress from a building or structure, a national consensus code known as NFPA 101 (Life Safety Code) was developed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). A few points of emphasis from the Life Safety Code regarding its goals and purpose:

  • 1.2 Purpose - "The Purpose of the code is to provide minimum requirements, with due regard to function, for the design, operation, and maintenance of buildings and structures for safety to life from fire. Its provisions will also aid life safety in similar emergencies."
  • 1.12 Danger to Life from Fire - "The code addresses those construction, protection, and occupancy features necessary to minimize danger to life from the effects of fire, including smoke, heat, and toxic gases created during a fire".
  • 1.1.3 Egress Facilities - "The code establishes minimum criteria of the design of egress facilities so as to allow prompt escape of occupants from buildings, where desirable, into safe areas within buildings".

Life safety should be an essential part of any Loss Control program. Some important items that a Life Safety program should include are:

  • An emergency evacuation plan for fire, bomb threats and other disasters. The evacuation route should be posted near all areas of exit from the building.
  • In event of a power failure, there should be a back-up power source or proper emergency lighting.
  • All buildings should have at least two separate and distinct exits properly marked with illuminated "EXIT" signs and be free of obstructions. Some buildings require three or more exits depending on the number of people inside the structure.
  • Pathways to the exits should be illuminated with emergency lighting. These can be battery powered units or part of the building electrical system using a backup generator.
  • Aisles should be at least 36 inches wide.
  • Materials should be stacked no closer than 24 inches from the ceiling in a non-sprinklered building or 18 incehsin a sprinkled building.
  • All exit doors should open in an outward direction. These doors should remain unlocked during normal business hours.
  • If there are any doors that are normally locked, these doors should have "panic hardware" as defined by NFPA 101 to permit easy egress in case of emergency.
  • A fire alarm system should be installed to alert the public in the event of fire. Both audible and visual notification methods are required.
  • Exit stairwells should also be kept free of obstructions.
  • Tripping hazards should be eliminated (e.g. cords lying in the egress pathway or underneath rugs/carpet). All loose-cord running walkways must be secured and are only to exist temporarily.
  • Power extension cords used as a source of temporary power should only be attached to one electrical device. Electrical outlets and power strips should not be overloaded. Do not use extension cords sequentially. Do not use extension cords with heat-producing devices, power strips or refrigerators.
  • Do not block emergency equipment (fire extinguishers, electrical panels, fire alarm pull stations).

The purpose of Life Safety is to provide a safe and orderly exit from a building in an emergency situation. By following the guidelines of NFPA 101, this goal can be accomplished.

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