Up to Date
OSHA Subpart E and the Life Safety Code
NFPA Journal, November/December 2010
Questions often arise at NFPA seminars about the relationship of NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, and the occupational safety and health standards produced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In part, those questions stem from aspects of the OSHA standards that refer to earlier versions of the Life Safety Code. As this issue of NFPA Journal® went to press, however, OSHA had just completed solicitation of public comments on a proposed rule that would update the standards to reflect the provisions of the 2009 edition of NFPA 101. If accepted, the updated standards would be more user-friendly and could minimize potential sources of confusion.
The requirements for Part 1910, Subpart E of OSHA’s standards, which deal with exit routes, were originally derived from, and based on, the 1970 edition of the Life Safety Code. OSHA republished Subpart E in 1980, noting in the preamble that "compliance with an applicable NFPA standard will be considered to be one means of compliance with the performance criteria in the OSHA standard…However, not adhering to the NFPA standard does not necessarily constitute non-compliance with the OSHA standard." OSHA republished Subpart E in 2002, with Section 1910.35 stating that "an employer who demonstrates compliance with the exit route provisions of NFPA 101-2000, the Life Safety Code, will be deemed to be in compliance with the corresponding requirements in §§ 1910.34, 1910.36, and 1910.37."
Since the original issuance of OSHA Subpart E, there have been many changes to the Life Safety Code. Until the 2002 reissue of Subpart E, for example, OSHA still referenced the "unit of exit width" as the method for calculating egress capacity, a holdover from the 1970 edition of NFPA 101. The unit of exit width was replaced by the capacity factor method in the 1988 edition of the code. There have also been many changes to the Life Safety Code affecting door hardware, locking arrangements, egress arrangement, fire alarm system features, and other items since 1970. Some of the changes could be considered more liberal and some more stringent. Regardless, the point is that the Life Safety Code includes the latest industry consensus on means of egress based on studies, fire investigations, and research.
When OSHA borrowed from the Life Safety Code to create Subpart E, all of the requirements for an adequate egress system were not included. For example, the specific requirements for travel distance or common path of travel were not included. This is because only portions of Chapters One through Five of the 1970 edition of the Life Safety Code were carried into Subpart E. In the 1970 edition of the code, Chapter 5 was entitled "Means of Egress." Since the reorganization of the Life Safety Code in 2000, however, the chapters were renumbered, and Chapter 5 became Chapter 7. The specific requirements from the occupancy chapters, such as common path of travel and travel distance, were not copied into OSHA.
Since the Life Safety Code is an occupancy code, its requirements are based on occupancy classifications. That’s why it is crucial to first classify the occupancy as defined in Chapter 6, then open the code to the appropriate occupancy chapter to find the specific requirements applicable to that occupancy. If Subpart E is eventually updated to reflect the provisions of the 2009 Life Safety Code, there will be no conflict between the OSHA standards and the Life Safety Code—that is, until the next edition of the Life Safety Code is published in 2012.
Chip Carson, P.E., is president of Carson Associates, Inc., a fire engineering and code consultancy. He is a former member of NFPA's Board of Directors.