Topic: Building & Life Safety

Atrium

Atrium Design Considerations

The use of vertical openings within buildings is a common design feature. Large spaces, typically in the center of a building, created by vertical openings through floors and ceilings are commonly referred to by architects as an atrium. Atriums are desirable to some building designs because they allow for light and ventilation within a space and allow for many parts of a building to feel connected with each other. However, atriums and other vertical openings pose some unique fire protection and life safety hazards that must be considered such as limiting the spread of fire and the products of combustion throughout the building. The base requirement in NFPA 101, The Life Safety Code, states that every floor that separates stories of a building must be constructed as a smoke barrier. If there are openings in the floor, these openings must be enclosed with fire barrier walls that extend from floor to floor or floor to roof. These two main base requirements apply to all occupancies unless a specific occupancy chapter provides an alternative option. This base requirement of separating stories exists to minimize the number of occupants that are exposed to the effects of a fire. There are exceptions that permit unprotected openings within floors that separate stories. The following protection packages are outlined in NFPA 101 and are permitted to be used under certain conditions: communicating space atrium partially enclosed two-story opening convenience opening When selecting an unprotected vertical opening protection package, the first thing to consider is the number of stories that are open to each other. If the opening connects three stories or fewer, then you will need to look and see if you can meet the requirements of a communicating space or convenience stair opening, if the opening connects 4 stories, then the space will need to meet the requirements for an atrium or convenience stair. If more than 4 stories are connected, then the requirements for an atrium will need to be met. For a deeper dive into types of vertical openings take a look at this blog. Let’s assume that the vertical openings within the building need to be protected as an atrium. Section 8.6.7 of NFPA 101 provides the requirements for an atrium, which include: an engineering analysis for smoke layer development separation from other spaces exit access requirements permissible contents sprinkler protection and if provided, requirements for a smoke control system (smoke management system) In this blog I am going to focus on the engineering analysis for smoke layer development and separation requirements. Where atriums are used, there is a need to minimize the risk of occupants on other floors being exposed to untenable conditions, such as low visibility, heat, and dangerous concentrations of smoke and toxic gases. To ensure that occupants are afforded tenable conditions, an engineering analysis must be completed to confirm that the smoke layer will stay at least 6 ft (1830 mm) above the highest walking surface within the atrium space for a period that is equal to 1.5 times the calculated egress time, or 20 minutes, whichever is greater.  It should be noted that the requirement for an engineering analysis does not mean that a smoke control or smoke management system is required in all atriums because there are cases in which tenable conditions can be maintained without a smoke management system. The engineering analysis should include the following elements: Fire dynamics, including the following: Fire size and location Materials likely to be burning Fire plume geometry Fire plume or smoke layer impact on means of egress Tenability conditions during the period of occupant egress Response and performance of building systems, including passive barriers, automatic detection and extinguishing, and smoke control Response time required for building occupants to reach building exits, including any time required to exit through the atrium as permitted in NFPA 101. If the engineering analysis shows that a smoke control system (smoke management system) is required in the atrium to keep the smoke layer at least 6 ft (1830 mm) above the highest walking surface then the system will need to be designed and installed in accordance with NFPA 92, Standard for Smoke Control Systems. NFPA 92 allows for different design approaches to smoke management including natural smoke filling, mechanical smoke exhaust, gravity smoke venting, and opposed flow to prevent smoke movement. For more information on smoke control systems take a look at this blog. To protect the occupants in adjacent portions of the building, NFPA 101 requires that atriums be separated from adjacent spaces using one of the following methods: Fire barriers with not less than a 1-hour fire resistance rating. Any number of levels are permitted to be open directly to the atrium based on the results of the engineering analysis. Glass walls and inoperable windows can serve as the separation provided they are protected with closely spaced sprinklers on either side of the glass. Want to learn more about atrium design? Want to see all the referenced requirements within the codes and standards? Take a look at our atrium design situation in the DiRECT feature on NFPA LiNK. This situation goes into more detail on design requirements as well as sprinkler system and fire alarm system design considerations. For more information on how to access NFPA LiNK with a 14-day free trial on your computer or mobile device go here.
Worker looking at a laptop

NFPA LiNK Empowers Users to Quickly and Easily Navigate Digital Codes and Standards

Did you catch the first free one-hour webinar educating users on our revolutionary digital platform, NFPA LiNK®? If not, don’t worry, it won’t be the last. At the March session, hosted by me, prospective and current NFPA LiNK subscribers from all over the world gathered virtually for an interactive discussion. I presented a complete demonstration of all features and content within NFPA LiNK followed by a Q&A session. Below are some key features that were demonstrated for our webinar attendees: Complete access to all NFPA codes and standards: NFPA LiNK houses the latest edition of every NFPA® code and standard, as well as a growing library of legacy editions for the organization’s most referenced publications. Subscribers also receive early access to newly released editions and can favorite their most cited publications for easy reference.  Enhanced publication navigation: Once a publication is open, users can view all enhanced content and collaborative notes. The bookmark feature enables users to save content (both sections and tables), leave notes, add bookmarks to larger collections, and color-code bookmarks. For easy side-by-side viewing of different sections of code, users can utilize the reference panel feature. NFPA LiNK also makes it easy to share sections of code with others (nonsubscribers included) via email from directly within a publication. Comprehensive search capabilities: The search feature within NFPA LiNK allows users to quickly search all NFPA publications by keyword or phrase. Users can also utilize filters to further refine a search and narrow down code content results. Custom MyLink page: MyLink is where subscribers can easily access and search all bookmarked content and collections. Within MyLink, users can create and reference individual collections of bookmarks as well as team collections for sharing and collaboration with others. Additional NFPA DiRECT™ content: NFPA DiRECT allows subscribers to find interactive, industry-specific content through situational navigation. With new content added on a weekly basis, the NFPA DiRECT hub within NFPA LiNK highlights situations and solutions created by NFPA experts to help users better understand requirements in varying situations. Offline Capabilities: The offline feature allows users to store publications, notes, and enhanced content for uninterrupted access anywhere at any time. Team Management Feature: NFPA LiNK’s team management capabilities mean team admins don’t need to contact NFPA or IT whenever they want to reassign licenses among team members. This feature allows users to conveniently invite, add, and remove team members.  Want to see it all in action? You can catch a recording of the session, “How to Quickly and Easily Navigate Digital Codes and Standards,” on our webinar page here.  As game-changing as these features are, NFPA LiNK continues to grow with you. We are constantly listening to and interacting with our users to learn more about the best updates that will help you excel in your daily roles. NFPA LiNK users can expect to see new content and features on a continuous basis—all of which will be shared with users within the “Announcements” section of NFPA LiNK. Stay tuned for more information on the next free NFPA LiNK educational webinar, coming in June 2022. Check here for more details soon. To find out more about NFPA LiNK, including how to sign up for a free trial, visit nfpa.org/link. 
Two workers looking at plans and overseeing a site

10 Ways to Make Your Safety Culture Thrive

Safety implications for businesses extend far beyond injury and property damage. An effective safety culture is critical to ensuring that business operations and output continue, and that facilities remain incident-free. Here are ten ways that organizations can invest in a strong safety culture to ensure that people, property, and productivity are safeguarded. Set appropriate expectations – It is important that everyone understands their respective roles and what they are accountable for on the job. Organizations tend to leverage regulatory requirements to guide them in setting expectations, but it is equally important to clarify business priorities. A sure-fire way to improve safety in the workplace is to establish a culture where safety is prioritized over production. Are your workers encouraged to pause work for safety reasons? Do they feel pressured to deliver results rather than keeping safety at the forefront?  Build shared ownership – Everyone should know and own their safety responsibilities. A great way to enrich an organization’s safety culture is by fostering an environment that shares ownership of safety tasks. Taking this tack helps everyone to properly understand how their safety benchmarks meld with others to achieve optimal safety. In the spirit of transparency and collaboration, give workers an opportunity to raise and answer questions as a team. Do your workers spend time sharing their accountabilities and learning more about their peers’ safety responsibilities? Help them believe – More often than not, training is treated as a check-the-box requirement for safety compliance. Real impact training not only helps workers acquire insights and techniques to be safer, it cultivates knowledge, skills, and an attitude that leads to changed behaviors. Without that deeper understanding, employees and contractors may be tempted to bypass or reduce safety steps in the interest of productivity. Have your workers been adequately trained so that they believe in the importance of performing their designated safety controls? Right people, right skills – Workers need the right skills to perform their assigned tasks. Qualifications should be considered prior to delegating responsibilities to personnel. A level of thoughtful consideration is especially important as an individual’s level of accountability changes or increases. How are you ensuring that individuals have the right competence to perform required safety tasks? Make it easy to comply – Cumbersome compliance systems contribute to the complacency that can hurt a safety culture. If workers find permitting to be difficult, then they may seek ways to circumvent mandatory procedures. If workers cannot attend scheduled training due to conflicts with their schedule, then they may skip mandatory learning that is critical for safety. How are you ensuring compliance is simple and feasible for your workers? Part of performance review – Expectations, training, and compliance must be built into regular performance reviews. Supervisors need to purposefully observe and provide feedback to employees about strict adherence to safety policies and procedures. Those same managers must be rewarded and disciplined equally for meeting production AND safety benchmarks. Does your management and workforce receive feedback, rewards, and recognition for ensuring safe operations and compliance? Talk the talk – I once visited an organization that takes time during each meeting to share a safety example or misstep to underscore the relevancy of the company’s policies and procedures. Those weighing in during this discussion hailed from both the operations and business sides of the organization. Beyond having visual cues, such as signage in the workplace, teams should spend time talking about safety. Complacency is the biggest enemy of a safety culture. The more that teams discuss safety, the more likely it will be top of mind as they work. Do your workers have a channel to discuss safety issues regularly? Walk the walk – Take time to celebrate good safety practices and digest poorly executed plans. People learn from both good and bad examples so be sure to debrief incidents, inspect outcomes, and audit situations. Learning does not and should not end with training. Do your workers regularly celebrate successes and learn from mistakes? Encourage curiosity – Asking questions can often be frowned upon with some mistakenly perceiving curiosity as incompetence. Teach workers to know when it is appropriate to question if adequate safety controls are being applied, especially during moments of change management when occupations and usage could be in flux. Managers and workers should have access to internal and external experts for safety-related questions and should be encouraged to keep up with the latest safety practices outlined in codes, standards, and training.  Are your managers and workers encouraged to be curious and to build on their career capabilities? Build partnerships with AHJs – Many people treat audits and inspections as a threat and may withhold information for fear of receiving poor ratings. The truth is that auditors and inspectors are safety culture allies. Their insights help organizations improve safety outcomes, so it is essential for businesses to be honest and transparent during any kind of analysis. Are you leveraging audits and inspections to regularly assess and improve your safety program and culture? It is widely known that codes and standards provide the solid foundation for an organization’s safety infrastructure. For the benefit of business continuity and workplace culture, key managers and workers in an organization should: learn how codes and standards inform safety program policies, procedures, and best practices; believe that everyone plays a role in safety; and  be curious and critically assess potential hazards based on the latest information and training. Investing in an organization’s safety culture and the need for skilled labor are two critical components of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™.  In a nutshell, the Ecosystem shows us that safety is a system; the framework is being used around the world to facilitate important discussions in the workplace. Find out how NFPA can help your organization improve its safety culture through codes and standards, research, training, certifications, and membership
Building Evacuation Sign - green

Building Occupants - Should they stay, or should they go?

At the first indication there may be an emergency, many argue the best course of action is to evacuate all the occupants immediately, however, as buildings increase in size and complexity this question, like emergencies themselves, is challenging, and the best course of action is not straight forward. Thus, it is important to pre-plan an evacuation strategy prior to an emergency occurring. For buildings required to have an emergency action plan, an evacuation procedure is required along with drills to ensure occupants (employees and guests) are aware of the approved strategy (NFPA 1 – Fire Code [1:10.8.2.1]). The development of an emergency action plan is the responsibility of the building owner; however, it must be approved by the AHJ (for more information about Emergency Action Plans check out this blog). When a building is not required to have an emergency action plan, it is still important to pre-plan the evacuation procedure. There are four main strategies when it comes to occupant safety, each named for their intent: Total evacuation. Phased Evacuation. Occupant Relocation. Shelter-in-place. Total Evacuation One of, if not the most common strategy is total evacuation where all the occupants are directed to immediately exit. Its most effective in less complex buildings, where evacuation occurs as emergency responders are in route. Since buildings are smaller and less complex, any potential conflicts with occupants exiting and access for responders are minimal. As building size and complexity increase, the number of occupants and time to total evacuation increases, making the total evacuation strategy less applicable. Phased Evacuation An alternate to total evacuation is the phased evacuation where occupants are directed to exit in groups, typically starting with those closest to the emergency and working away. More often used in larger buildings such as high-rises, this strategy accounts for the increased time required to evacuate. Occupants closest to the emergency are given priority use of the exits, followed by those in less danger.  Typically, the fire floor and one or two floors above and below are evacuated first. Additional floors are then evacuated as necessary, usually by doing one additional floor above and below at a time. Evacuation is often conducted over a longer period, requiring active management so that emergency responders are not competing for access while occupants exiting. Occupant Relocation When occupants are incapable of evacuation possibly due to a medical conditions or physical restraint the occupant relocation strategy can be utilized. It is typically employed in buildings with both active (fire sprinkler) and passive (smoke/fire barriers) protection providing safe locations for occupants within the building during an emergency. This includes the use of areas of refuge as discussed in NFPA 101 Life Safety Code. Shelter-in-place Like occupant relocation and phased evacuation, the shelter-in-place strategy involves utilizing the protection provided by the building, both passive and active, as well as the distance from the emergency to protect occupants in place. The difference being occupants are remaining in place, until the emergency is mitigated. Depending on the size of the building and type of emergency, evacuation may never be required. An example of this could be a residential high-rise where occupants several floors removed from the fire remain in their apartment until the fire is controlled. The occupants away from the emergency.  When a shelter-in-place strategy is employed emergency responders, in conjunction with facility personnel (if applicable) should continue to re-evaluate the situation and decision to employ said strategy. If the smoke/fire are spreading into occupied areas rescue from the fire department or total evacuation may be necessary. When occupants are directed to shelter in place it is important to communicate to the need to be patient as controlling the fire and removing the smoke can take an hour or longer. In a fire or other emergency event, if occupants are located near the fire or emergency, they should be directed to take every action possible to remove themselves from that area. If safe exits are not available and the building can provide some protection facility personnel and emergency responders may choose to utilize another evacuation strategy. Communicating the strategy and practicing via drills ensures that everyone is familiar with increasing occupant safety in an emergency. Every situation is slightly different making evacuation a complex decision. For more information on building evacuation check out these NFPA resources: How to make a home fire escape plan NFPA FAQs about building evacuation High-rise Apartment & Condominium Safety
cleaning supplies

Include Carbon Monoxide Prevention as Part of Your Spring Cleaning

Social media outlets are full of #Springcleaning tips to prepare your home and wardrobe for the warmer weather.  Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning prevention should be part of that effort.   CO is an odorless, colorless gas emitted from the incomplete combustion of fuel burning appliances such as furnaces, cooking appliances, and portable generators.  If it burns fuel, it produces CO. What to add to your "to do" list? Clean fireplace, wood/fuel burning stove, and other chimneys annually to make sure debris and animals nesting haven’t blocked air flow. Have your furnace and heating equipment inspected annually or according to manufacturer's instructions. Use portable generators OUTDOORS at least 20 feet away from your home, and downwind of open vents or doors. Gas and charcoal grills should only be used outdoors, never indoors or in a garage Take a walk – around your home to check and clean all outdoor vents including the dryer vent. CO is called the silent killer because people cannot smell or see it and the effects of CO mimic flu-like symptoms and make people disoriented.  Carbon Monoxide (CO) alarms should be installed in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home.  For the best protections, interconnect all CO alarms throughout the home so that when one sounds, they all sound. NFPA’s Carbon Monoxide Safety Tip sheet also available in Spanish (CO) and Carbon Monoxide Safety Community Toolkit, are available for free download to use in your Fire and Life Safety education efforts.   NFPA’s Educational Messages Desk Reference contains the compilation of key FLS messages related to CO and related fire, burn, and hazard prevention messages so that you can tailor your messaging to your audience.  No matter the season, there’s always a reason to include CO education in your efforts! Follow me on Twitter @AndreaVastis, Sparky the Fire Dog® on Twitter and Facebook and NFPA on Instagram to keep up with the latest in Fire and Life Safety education.
Fire Hydrant

Calculating the Required Fire Flow

Providing water to the responding fire department is a crucial aspect of the overall fire protection and life safety strategy of an entire community. When a new building is developed or an existing building is renovated, it is important to make sure that the proper amount of water is available to the responding fire department to allow for both suppression of the fire in the building, and protection of any exposed buildings. Because of this, NFPA 1, The Fire Code, requires a minimum amount of water be provided based on the type of construction of the building as well as fire flow area. Fire flow is defined as the flow rate of a water supply, measured at 20 psi (137.9 kPa) residual pressure, that is available for the responding fire department for manual firefighting, typically this is water that is available at the surrounding fire hydrants, but it can be supplied with another approved source such as a static water supply like a tank or pond, or even using a fire department tanker shuttle service. In addition to using the required fire flow water supply for manual suppression of the fire with hose lines, when responding to a fire at a sprinklered building or a building that contains a standpipe system, the fire department will also connect their pumper up to these systems through a fire department connection to use their pumper and the available fire flow water supply to supplement the water supply of these systems. There is a difference between the required fire flow in NFPA 1 and the hose stream allowance that is required in NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems, to be added to the required sprinkler demand. The fire flow required by NFPA 1 is being provided for the fire department for both protection of exposures as well as the water required for manual suppression, while the hose stream allowance in NFPA 13 that is added to a sprinkler system demand is adding a safety factor to the calculations to account for the fact that the fire department will likely also be using water from the same water supply that the sprinkler system is being fed from, which will reduce the available water. Because they are separate requirements that are trying to accomplish different goals, the fire flow, per NFPA 1, is not required to be added to the demand of an automatic sprinkler system in sprinklered buildings. However, the available water supply must be the greater of the two, either the sprinkler system demand, or the required fire flow. If the available water supply can support the greatest demand, it will also be able to support the other demand as well. NFPA 1, provides requirements for fire flow in Section 18.4. The requirements are performance-based, which means they do not specify the type of system necessary to provide the required fire flow. The AHJ (typically the responding fire department) has the final authority to determine if the proposed water supply delivery method is appropriate. Fire flow is calculated based on the fire flow area of the building. The flow area is the total floor area of all floor levels of a building, except for Type I (443), Type I (332), and Type II (222), in which case the fire flow area is the largest three successive floors. The fire flow area should be determined based on the area between the surrounding exterior walls of each floor and the fire separation walls used to create separate buildings.   Table 18.4.5.2.1 lists the minimum required fire flow and flow duration for buildings based on fire flow area and construction type. For more information on construction types, take a look at this blog.  For example, a Type I (443) building with a fire area in the range of 0-22,700 ft2 (0-2108.83 m2) is required to provide the fire department with a fire flow of 1500 gpm (5677.5 L/min) for a flow duration of 2 hours (see below). Enlarge image Paragraph 18.4.5.3.2 states that the required fire flow for buildings other than one and two family dwellings can be reduced by 75 percent when the building is protected by an approved automatic sprinkler system. However, the resulting fire flow cannot be less than 1000 gpm (3785 L/min) or 600 gpm (2270 L/min) where quick response sprinklers are used throughout. Sprinklered one- and two -family dwellings fire flows can be reduced by 75 percent with no minimum and the duration decreased to one hour. Here is an example video stepping through the calculation of the required fire flow taken from our Certified Fire Plans Examiner Learning Path. As mentioned, hydrants are the primary method for providing a fire flow. NFPA 1 requires that the flow capacity of all fire hydrants within 1000 ft (305 m) of a building not be less than the required fire flow. The distance should be measured as the fire apparatus would lay hose out on the fire department access road to the building. The distance should not be measured across adjacent lots or through fences, gates, or other obstructions that would prevent the normal movement of a fire apparatus performing a hose lay to a fire hydrant. Table 18.5.4.3 of NFPA 1 specifies the maximum capacity that each hydrant can be credited for when calculating the total available fire flow, based on the distance of the hydrant from the building. Enlarge Image Fire Hydrants must be installed to meet the requirements of NFPA 1, waterworks standards, and any local requirements of the jurisdiction. Where required by the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), the hydrant needs to be provided with a reflector and proximity flag. In some jurisdictions, the hydrants are also color-coded to indicate the available flow rate. Fire hydrants need to be located within 600 feet (183 m) from the closest point of the building in detached one- and two-family dwellings, with a maximum spacing of 800 feet (244 m). For buildings other than one- and two-family dwelling, hydrants need to be within 400 feet (122 m) of the building with a maximum spacing of 500 feet (152 m). Additionally, hydrants must also be located within 12 feet (3.7 m) of the fire department access road. If you are interested in learning more about fire plans review, or want to become a Certified Fire Plans Examiner, take a look at our learning path explorer module, which provides some sample lessons. 
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