High-profile fire events across the country have drawn attention to the risks and requirements surrounding fire safety in facilities where active construction is taking place. NFPA 241 is the nationally accepted standard for safeguarding construction, alteration and demolition operations. In simpler terms it is the universal code that serves as the guidebook for ensuring active jobsites are protected from fires.
The standard published by the National Fire Protection Agency is first and foremost a safety regulation, and is widely informed, supported and promoted by the fire department. Some of the most devastating recent examples occurred close to home here in Boston and have the fire protection industry and local municipalities calling for increased awareness about the standards and regulations already in place that are designed to keep people and places safe.
Before beginning work on your facility's next construction project or renovation, consider the following three suggestions related to NFPA 241 compliance:
1. Make Planning for Safety Your Top Priority
NFPA 241 puts the responsibility for fire and life safety planning for active work areas on the building owner. In many cases, this means additional responsibilities for the Facility Manager(s). Chapter 7 of NFPA 241 elaborates further that the "owner is required to have a fire protection program manager" who will be empowered to set and enforce the fire prevention plan on site. Depending on the type and function of the facility in question, Facility Managers may hire a fire protection organization, an outside contractor or an in-house professional. Regardless of who is managing the program specifically, there must be a designated person and a clearly executable plan.
2. Seek Out Experience
It is critical that the individual acting as fire prevention program manager has a real-world understanding of the construction process as well as a solid grasp of NFPA requirements. A good fire prevention program manager understands that he/she must always be proactive. NFPA 241 contains 17 separate standards that lay out the "rules of the road," and will help you cover all your bases, however the need for constant supervision and round-the-clock caution cannot be emphasized enough. After all, functioning fire protection systems (such as fire alarms, smoke detectors, fire sprinklers, deluge systems or foam systems) are often not installed, or not yet functioning when a building isn't ready for occupancy. As a result, fire departments do not typically have the resources or capacity to perform inspections at each of the many ongoing building projects within their jurisdiction.
3. Pay Attention to Details
Conditions on construction sites and/or areas undergoing renovation change quickly and frequently. People from various companies are coming and going throughout the day, work progresses and quite often, the work being done can be dangerous. Your fire prevention program should outline every scenario where risk of fire may occur. Each instance should contain a clear set of protocols, keeping in mind that the risks may vary by the type of building or industry.
Facility managers looking for more on NFPA 241 information can turn to IFMA, where the Boston Chapter recently hosted a webinar on the subject. The NFPA is always a great primary source for fire code information, industry developments and training opportunities. Those managing existing facilities with planned or ongoing renovation projects should also consider taking a closer look at their procedures for fire protection inspections, testing and maintenance.