Businesses face unique challenges as they operate during the pandemic. The emphasis on public health is important, but must not interfere with fire and life safety codes. The following topics should be reviewed to ensure health guidelines are applied alongside fire and life safety standards.
Alcohol-Based Hand Rub (ABHR) Dispensers
To meet health guidelines, companies have added alcohol-based hand rub (ABHR) dispensers where hand washing is not available. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers contain high concentrations of ethanol and/or isopropanol. They generally have a flashpoint around room temperature. Meaning, they only need a source of ignition to ignite. Such liquids are considered flammable. Thus, codes regulate the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers. The following should be considered when using ABHR dispensers.
- Obstructions created by the installation of ABHR dispensers. The position of ABHR dispensers shall not restrict available egress paths.
- Location of ABHR dispensers with respect to each other and combustible materials or sources of ignition. ABHR dispensers shall be separated from each other by a horizontal distance of at least four feet. ABHR dispensers shall not be installed above or near an ignition source.
- Size of ABHR dispensers. Most ABHR dispensers cannot exceed .53 gallons (2 liters). Thus, the commonly used gallon container with pump is not allowed. The allowable size of ABHR dispensers is decreased or restricted in corridors and spaces open to corridors, depending on occupancy. Educational occupancies are not allowed to provide ABHR dispensers in corridors or spaces open to corridors.
- Amount and location of flammable solutions, both in use and in storage. The total quantity of flammable liquids in any area must comply with applicable codes. The maximum allowable quantity of hazardous materials is increased with a fire sprinkler system. Fire cabinets are also used to increase the quantity of hazardous materials in storage.
- Requirements for other fire protection features. For instance, ABHR dispensers cannot be installed over carpeted floors, unless the area is protected by a fire sprinkler system.
Automatic/ Power-Operated Doors
To decrease the spread of the coronavirus via surface contact, some businesses are propping open their entry doors. This is allowed in most situations. However, some doors contribute to a building’s passive fire protection scheme. Such openings include corridor and interior exit stair doors. Doors cannot be propped open if used to restrict the passage of fire and hot gases. However, if a building is equipped with a fire alarm system, the doors can be held open with magnetic doors holders. During a fire scenario, the magnetic door holders would release, allowing their respective doors to close and self-latch.
Means of Egress
To avoid two-flow encounters, changes have been made to building entrances and exits. Partitions and queuing lines are being used to manage occupant flow. While doing this, one must not block or obstruct life safety systems (fire alarm components, sprinkler heads, fire extinguishers, etc.) and means of egress pathways. Including means of egress discharge for adjacent structures. Once outside, occupants must be free to disperse. The location of emergency lights and exit signage shall also be updated to reflect new layouts.
Seating – Indoor
To maintain social distancing, occupant loads have been reduced by altering seating layouts. Smaller occupant loads are generally safer. However, while altering seating layouts, one must not block or obstruct life safety systems (fire alarm components, sprinkler heads, fire extinguishers, etc.) and means of egress pathways. The location of emergency lights and exit signage shall also be updated to reflect new layouts.
Seating – Outdoor
To increase patron count, some businesses have added outdoor seating where none previously existed. If using parking spaces or street access, the local fire department must be consulted to ensure the new layout does not negatively impact emergency vehicle traffic or emergency personnel operations (the staging of fire apparatus, etc.).
To create comfortable outdoor environments, some businesses have enclosed outdoor seating in tents or space bubbles. These areas are commonly heated with propane heaters. The use of tents and propane heaters can require a permit from the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). This is typically the building or fire department. The following should be considered when using propane heaters:
- Are the heaters properly vented?
- Are the heaters a safe distance from tent walls or furnishings? Product manuals usually require heaters to have a few feet of clear space from combustible materials.
- Do staff members know how to operate the heaters?
- Where are the propane tanks stored? Propane tanks should be stored outside in safety cages, away from combustible or flammable materials and sources of ignition.
To comply with public health guidelines, many businesses have updated operations to include delivery and take-out. These operations can require the storage of extra boxes or other materials. Such storage must not block or obstruct life safety systems (fire alarm components, sprinkler heads, fire extinguishers, etc.) and means of egress pathways. To not obstruct sprinkler heads, the clearance between sprinkler deflectors and storage shall be 18 inches or greater. Items shall also not be stored near heat sources.
As businesses adapt to operate during the pandemic, changes have been made to comply with public health guidelines. These changes are important, but must not interfere with fire and life safety codes. When increasing quantities of flammable and combustible materials, consider related hazards. Consider ABHR dispenser and stockpile locations, and the amount of hazardous materials in use and in storage. When updating layouts, ensure not to block or obstruct the means of egress or life safety components, including fire alarm devices, fire extinguishers, lighting, signage, and sprinkler heads.
Written By: Mark R. Richards, PE
Image taken from: https://theconversation.com