Contributed by National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
Anyone responsible for ensuring the fire and life safety of one or more occupancies knows that keeping people and property safe is an ongoing process involving adaptive, proactive thinking and actions. Over the past year and a half, COVID-19 underscored that as the world changes in unexpected ways, we all must pivot and adjust accordingly. At the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), we were able to respond quickly and develop much-needed guidance during the pandemic so that we could meet the evolving needs of our varied audiences. It quickly became clear that the coronavirus presented unique challenges for building owners, facility managers, code officials and enforcers, and others who were, in many cases, forced to close their buildings and restricted from entering occupancies to conduct work as they normally would.
One of the biggest areas of concern was the lack of access to occupancies, which prevented building and life safety professionals from performing safety procedures, including the proper inspection, testing, and maintenance of critical fire protection systems such as sprinklers, fire alarms, and fire doors.
These and other shifts in the built environment over the last 16 months highlighted both opportunities and areas of concern for those charged with facility management.
Remote Inspections For Facilities
The value of remote inspection (RI), for example, emerged as an effective alternative to on-site inspection, enabling one or more parties to remotely perform an inspection of a building or building component. While RI is currently used in select jurisdictions across the US, it remains new to many, but during the pandemic, its benefits became more widely recognized and valued. What seemed like a trend in the pre-COVID era, has taken root out of necessity and has become standard practice for some.
A common misconception about RI is that it serves as a less complete version of an on-site inspection. In truth, remote inspection can be used to achieve the same or even enhanced results as an on-site inspection. It may also be able to accomplish critical and emergency permit work.
Just like traditional on-site or in-person inspections, RI is typically assigned within a jurisdiction’s permitting process, the project, or contract schedule, and needs to be approved by the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). Although no formal standard currently governs the use of RI, NFPA 915, Standard for Remote Inspections is currently being developed.
Construction Site Safety
Different areas of the country halted construction, particularly during the early days of the pandemic, but even still fires at buildings under construction continued to occur with alarming frequency. In the U.S., a building under construction fire happens every 90 minutes, on average, according to NFPA data.
Construction sites are notoriously rife with fuel, including piles of trash and excess building materials. Combine that with no shortage of ignition sources, ranging from heating and cooking equipment to welding and other hot-work activities, as well as the fact that fire protection systems like sprinklers may not yet be active. All these factors contribute to an environment primed for a devastating fire. It doesn’t have to be this way, though, because fires at construction sites are highly preventable with the proper planning and provisions in place.
NFPA 241, Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations provides general requirements for all types of construction projects, including the development of new buildings, renovations at existing occupancies, and demolition efforts. While facility managers are more often focused on renovations, construction fires of any kind can adversely affect businesses. NFPA 241 can help ensure that the needed safeguards are in place. The document is not a prescriptive standard that spells out what to do. Instead, it requires the designation of a fire protection program manager, or FPPM, who is tasked with creating a safety plan based on the individual construction project. The FPPM ensures that all elements of the plan are conducted correctly and safely.
And although not directly attributable to the pandemic, over the last year and a half, there has been an emergence of cannabis facilities, which are growing exponentially in number as more states legalize medical and recreational use of marijuana.
NFPA has been proactively addressing fire safety considerations for these structures and generating much-need code compliance guidance. In response to serious fires that have occurred at cannabis facilities over the past few years, NFPA 420, Standard on Fire Protection of Cannabis Growing and Processing Facilities was recently approved for development. This new standard will provide clear fire protection standards for facilities that produce, process, and extract cannabis.
A Closer Look At Timely Issues
Remote inspection, construction site safety, and cannabis facility fires are just three of the industry topics that we all must learn about, plan for, and monitor so that we are well-informed about the building and life safety challenges of today and tomorrow. The nature of a facility manager’s role is varied and non-stop, but success and safety require setting valuable time aside to fine-tune knowledge and work practices.
With that understanding, NFPA is hosting “Keeping You Informed: The Big Wide World of Building and Life Safety,” a one-day online educational program on Tuesday, June 22. Registration for the event is now open.
The event, with on-demand capabilities, has been designed to address timely issues and opportunities in the built environment. The conference looks at emerging technologies like drones and 3D printing, while providing updates and insights related to the new 2021 editions of NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code® and NFPA 99, Health Care Facilities Code. The agenda also features roundtable discussions with subject matter experts, networking events, and live chats with industry experts and NFPA staff. The dedicated building and life safety learning event is part of the association’s virtual 125th Anniversary Conference Series, which replaces the traditional in-person 2021 NFPA Conference & Expo.