What does one do in the meantime…

By Steve MacArthur, Hospital Safety Consultant

...Interim Life Safety Measures and the art of the impairment.

One of the truisms (not an absolute, but very close to one) of renovating spaces that are adjacent to occupied spaces is that, at some point during the project, there will be a condition or conditions that effect the Life Safety of building occupants, usually as a function of an impairment of the fire suppression system or some level of impact on egress in the adjacent occupied spaces.

Given the infection control implications of space renovation, it is almost impossible to isolate the construction/renovation space without impacting egress, typically because of a construction barrier wall that encroaches into an egress corridor. And I can’t tell you how many times, when I’ve asked to see the ILSM assessment, I see that the assessment indicates that egress was not impacted, period. Now it may be that egress is not sufficiently impacted to require implementation of an interim measures, but if you are encroaching into the corridor, you have to say that egress is impacted.

There’s no sin in indicating that the clear width of the corridor is reduced—and if that reduction is within allowances, then you can say that additional measures are not required. If I may use a turn of phrase from high school math class: You have to show your work on the board in order to get credit.

That said, I think the egress piece is fairly straightforward in terms of being able to “see” where the lines are drawn, but when it comes to fire suppression impairments, it can get a little tricky. But for the purposes of what we are discussing today, if you are renovating a space with sprinklers and you removed the ceiling tiles, you really should reflect that potential impairment in the assessment.

Maybe you’ll have to add additional detection (heat, smoke, both); maybe you will have to reorient the sprinklers if there’s enough of a space above the ceiling—you really need to get a fire protection pro involved in the conversation.

To start you off towards feeling more comfortable about identifying impairments, the good folks at NFPA recently published a blog that discusses elements of sprinkler system impairments that I think you will find useful. As they say in the automotive ads, actual mileage may vary, but I think there’s some pretty good information to be had: https://www.nfpa.org/News-and-Research/Publications-and-media/Blogs-Landing-Page/NFPA-Today/Blog-Posts/2022/06/17/Impairment-Procedures-for-Sprinkler-Systems-That-are-Out-of-Order

Another good resource (if you’ve not already stumbled upon it) is the folks at Meyer Fire; they have lots of useful information, including an email list that provides links to blog posts. If you sign up, they’ll send you a PDF of their Quick Guide For Determining Canopy & Overhang Requirements, which I think is pretty nifty—you don’t want to have an under-sprinklered canopy or overhang, do you?

About the Author: Steve MacArthur is a safety consultant with Chartis Clinical Quality Solutions (formerly known as The Greeley Company) in Danvers, Mass. He brings more than 30 years of healthcare management and consulting experience to his work with hospitals, physician offices, and ambulatory care facilities across the country. He is the author of HCPro's Hospital Safety Director's Handbook and is contributing editor for Healthcare Safety Leader. Contact Steve at stevemacsafetyspace@gmail.com.