Vigilance, Education Necessary to Enforce Fire Safety Codes, BHMA Says

Vigilance, education and inspections are essential to assuring safe egress of occupants from buildings in emergencies, according to the Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA).

Fatal incidents such as the Republica Cromagnon nightclub fire in Buenos Aires on Dec. 30, the Station nightclub fire in West Warwick, R.I. on Feb. 20, 2003, and recent high-rise fires in Chicago office buildings are tragic reminders of the importance of adhering to building codes and using builders hardware properly.

"Products and technology exist to allow safe egress while also preventing unauthorized access," said Ralph Vasami, director of codes and regulatory affairs for BHMA. "Tragic incidents emphasize the necessity for codes and for vigilance on the part of building owners and managers in safeguarding means of egress."

Builders hardware manufacturers continue to develop and market products allowing for safe egress from buildings, while resisting intruders. Still, far too many public and private structures do not enjoy the safety that current technologies can offer. For this reason, BHMA and allied industries support having door inspection and maintenance requirements included in building codes, and also proactively promotes ANSI/BHMA standards pertaining to proper operation of fire doors and doors in the means of egress.

To this end, the group is currently involved in the following initiatives:

  • Raising awareness of the standards' content, and encouraging code-making authorities to use the language of the standards in drafting codes relating to the inspection of fire doors and doors in the means of egress.
  • Encouraging property managers to follow such codes on a voluntary basis.
  • Strengthening the code enforcement by developing simple, clear-cut inspection procedures, easily followed by building engineers, physical plant staffs, public safety administrators and maintenance personnel, as well as official building inspectors and fire-safety inspectors.

Once the pertinent language is adopted in the local codes, it will be necessary to enforce them. Door and builders hardware inspection procedures are being coordinated by BHMA for submission to the International Code Council (ICC) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). BHMA is seeking support from a wide array of stakeholders in its effort to improve life safety by ensuring properly maintained and operating doors.

The Door Safety Council, established to address the issue of proper operation and maintenance of fire doors and doors in the means of egress, is currently focusing on the need for inspections. Developing building codes will be part of this process; however, the success of the program ultimately rests on education and training.

Is it reasonable to leave door-safety inspections in the hands of building managers and staff?

"The task of inspecting all means of egress from every building in the country is enormous-no one agency can be expected to do it all," Vasami explained. "As such, it is necessary to develop simple inspection procedures for building owners to follow. For that small percentage of owners and managers who will not bring their properties up to code, enforceable building codes must be in place."

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