Topic: Building & Life Safety

Fatality in a water tank reminds us about importance of confined space safety procedures

The recent death of a worker in a water tank in Braintree, Massachusetts this past week provides a grim reminder of the importance of following safe entry procedures for all confined spaces. Water tanks are confined spaces because they are not normally occupied and their design and configuration offer limited means for entry and exit. When they are entered for the purpose of periodic inspection and maintenance it is essential for workers to be familiar with the characteristic hazards of such spaces and to have a plan for safe entry, work, and exit. Typically these tanks are entered through a hatch in the top of the tank, requiring workers to climb to the top of the tank, where there might not be guardrails around the top to prevent falls and often there are no appropriate anchorage points for the connection of fall protection devices.   Atmospheres inside the tank can be unsafe due to rusting or decomposition of residual debris which can lead to unsafe levels of oxygen or other atmospheric hazards.   Water tanks may also be covered with snow or ice, leading to slip hazards. Rescue from these spaces is also a challenge because of the elevation and the possibility for the rescuers falling.   In this recent incident, reports indicate there were two workers on the top of the tank. The tank did not appear to have guardrails on top and it is unclear if there were anchorage points in the vicinity of the hatch. The victim (the entrant) was inside the water tank wearing diving equipment to inspect the tank while a “spotter” was outside the tank. The spotter in this case acted like the “attendant” in a confined space entry. When it became apparent that the diver's equipment was compromised, the spotter “heroically” jumped into the space in an attempt to rescue his coworker. Ultimately, the spotter had to be rescued by fire department and technical rescue personnel. There are on average 100 deaths per year caused by confined spaces. It is estimated that 60% of fatalities that occur in confined spaces involve the “would be” rescuers. The spotter who dove into the tank was rescued but could have become the second victim in this incident for a myriad of reasons including a hazardous atmosphere above the water level due to oxygen deficiency, a condition that frequently occurs when a metal tank rusts and uses up oxygen. Entering a space without testing is risky, which is why NFPA 350, Guide for Safe Confined Space Entry and Work, recommends atmospheric testing all confined spaces prior to entry to ensure there is no hazardous atmosphere. Safe confined space entry procedures that include identification, evaluation and control of hazards in and adjacent to confined spaces are addressed in the guide.   The document provides guidance beyond OSHA regulations and explains “How To” comply with requirements in OSHA regulations, including best practices for entering into and providing rescue from confined spaces.   Prevention through Design (PtD) information is also addressed and covers safe design practices such as designing guardrails, anchorage points or other means of fall protection in or adjacent to confined spaces. You can view NFPA 350 free of charge on line at the document information page found at If you are unsure whether you have a confined space in your workplace check out this a free 5 minute video available. An online training program is also available and site specific training is also available on request. Click on the training tab for further information. Additional questions on confined spaces and the new NFPA 350 Guide for Safe Confined Space Entry or work can be directed to me at  

#101Wednesdays - Life Safety Basics in Assembly Occupancies

Welcome to premier edition of #101Wednesdays (with apologies and all credit to my colleague, Kristin Bigda, who inspired me with her weekly posts on NFPA 1 in #FireCodeFridays (be sure to follow her @KristinB_NFPA). Each week I'll explore an issue related to NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, and hopefully generate some discussion. My goals are to share some of what I've learned working with the Code over the last 20 years, and also to learn from you, the usersin the real world. This is a two-way street. I'm looking forward to getting the conversation started. In this edition, in the wake of last week's tragic Oakland warehouse dance party fire that claimed 36 lives, I'll review some of the basic NFPA 101 requirements for assembly occupancies. The first thing that is important to understand is, “What exactly is an assembly occupancy?” The Code defines an assembly occupancy as an occupancy (1) used for a gathering of 50 or more persons for deliberation, worship, entertainment, eating, drinking, amusement, awaiting transportation, or similar uses; or (2) used as a special amusement building, regardless of occupant load ( – references are to the 2015 edition of NFPA 101). For this discussion, I'll focus on Item (1) in the definition, which is a “typical” assembly occupancy. Item (2) refers to things like haunted house attractions, and the like. Based on the definition, two criteria must be met for an occupancy to be classified as assembly: there must be 50 or more people, AND they must be collocated in the occupancy for one of the specified purposes (deliberation, worship, entertainment, eating, drinking, amusement, awaiting transportation, or similar uses). If 50 or more people are working in a densely occupied call center, it's most likely a business occupancy based on its use. If there are 50 or more people in a large conference room, that is an assembly occupancy. The 50-person threshold is determined based on the calculated occupant or the actual expected number of occupants, whichever is GREATER ( With the occupancy classification established, let's look at some of the basic life safety requirements. MEANS OF EGRESS The importance of providing adequate means of egress from assembly occupancies can't be overstated. For new assembly occupancies, the general rule is at least two means of egress are needed for not more than 500 occupants; three are needed for 501 to 1,000 occupants; and four are needed for more than 1,000 (7.4 and For existing assembly occupancies, two means of egress are good for up to 600 occupants; the other thresholds are the same as for new assembly occupancies (13.2.4). Early reports indicate the second floor performance space in the Oakland warehouse was accessed by a single, makeshift stair. NFPA 101 would have required, in all likelihood, at least two stairs because of the strict 20 ft common path of travel limit for egress paths in assembly occupancies serving more than 50 people ( and In addition to adequate numbers of means of egress, sufficient egress capacity (width) is needed. As a Boston area native, I make an analogy to the old Central Artery, which was an elevated highway that snaked its way through Downtown Boston. Before the infamous “Big Dig,” I-93 was a relatively wide, three- and four-lane highway north and south of Boston. Where the highway hit the city, however, it narrowed down to two lanes in each direction. This narrowing resulted in traffic jams, day in and day out. The same phenomenon exists where occupants attempt to egress through a relatively narrow doorway or via a stair. The reduction in egress width results in queuing; the wider the opening, the shorter the wait time to move through the opening. Section 7.3, 12.2.3, and 13.2.3 provide all the details on means of egress capacity. If insufficient capacity is provided, the occupant load must be carefully controlled to prevent overcrowding and exceeding the available egress capacity, or additional egress capacity must be provided. An additional egress consideration is the main entrance/exit. People will have a natural tendency to try to go out the way they came in. In an emergency, if everyone makes their way to the main entrance/exit, the evacuation can be significantly delayed. For this reason, the Code requires the main entrance/exit to be sized to accommodate at least half of the occupant load. For certain new assembly occupancies, such as nightclubs, the main entrance/exit needs to accommodate at least two-thirds of the occupant load ( & (The two-thirds criterion was added to the Code following the 2003 fire that killed 100 concertgoers at The Station nightclub in Rhode Island.) AUTOMATIC SPRINKLERS AND FIRE ALARMS New assembly occupancies are required to be protected by automatic sprinklers where the occupant load exceeds 300. In addition, any new nightclub-like assembly occupancy must be provided with sprinklers if the occupant load is 50 or greater. For existing nightclub-like assembly occupancies, sprinklers are required if the occupant load is greater than 100. Otherwise, sprinklers are required for existing exhibition facilities that are more than 15,000 ft2 in area. Fire alarm systems are required in both new and existing assembly occupancies with an occupant load exceeding 300, and in theaters with more than one audience-viewing room. The alarm system is required to alert personnel at a constantly attended receiving station for the purpose of initiating an emergency response. Alternatively, the system is permitted to automatically provide voice notification to the occupants. There are some exceptions to and variations of the sprinkler and fire alarm requirements for assembly occupancies; see 12.3.4, 12.3.5, 13.3.4, and 13.3.5 for all the details. CROWD MANAGERS ALL assembly occupancies must be provided with at least one trained crowd manager to facilitate an orderly response to an emergency (12.7.6 & 13.7.6). (There is an exception for assembly occupancies used for religious worship with an occupant load of not more than 500.) Additional crowd managers must be provided where the occupant load exceeds 250 at a ratio of one crowd manager for every 250 occupants. Guidance on the required crowd manager training is provided in Annex A of the Code (A. and A. Crowd managers are an integral component of the life safety package prescribed by the Code for an assembly occupancy and should not be overlooked. Organizations such as the International Association of Venue Managers offer online training for trained crowd managers and crowd manager supervisors; go to for details. SOME FINAL THOUGHTS (BUT BY NO MEANS THE CONCLUSION) The life safety criteria for assembly occupancies prescribed by NFPA 101 that I've described here is only the tip of the iceberg. The Code has much more: interior finish regulations; vertical opening protection; emergency lighting; construction limits; seating arrangements; I could go on for days! (In fact, I frequently do when I instruct NFPA's three-day Life Safety Code Essentials seminar.) But hopefully this brief review helps you gain an understanding of some of the basics. It's still early in the Oakland fire investigation, but I won't be surprised if some, if not all of the items described here were missing. Let me know what challenges you encounter related to assembly occupancies. If we can keep the discussions going, and continue to raise awareness, maybe we can help to prevent future tragedies like the one we witnessed in Oakland last week. Check out my earlier blog post about the unsettling 13-year trend of large loss-of-life assembly occupancy fires. I hope you'll return next week for another edition of #101Wednesdays. Until then, stay safe. Did you know NFPA 101 is available to review online for free? Head over to and click on “Free access to the 2015 edition of NFPA 101.”

NFPA 1: Requirements for artificial and natural cut Christmas trees. #FireCodefridays

I've learned a lot about Christmas trees since working with NFPA 1, Fire Code.  How much can there be to learn about a Christmas tree?  Homes have them, businesses have them, place of worship have them, schools may have them, restaurants have them.  I hate to be a Grinch, but Christmas trees can be a pretty severe fire hazard when not properly attended to or when not fire tested appropriately.  There are provisions in place to make sure buildings and residences that wish to enjoy Christmas trees can do so while staying safe. Check out this video.  In this case, a room with a dried out Christmas tree may achieve flashover conditions in under a minute.  This shows that Christmas trees have the potential to greatly contribute to the overall fuel load of a compartment.  When it comes to a family escaping their home, seconds can count.  One minute just isn't enough. Natural Christmas trees, by their nature, are initially fire retardant. The problem arises when they have been cut and packaged without access to water for extended periods of time. The fire danger of Christmas trees and similar vegetation increases when the bottom end of the tree is not freshly cut and immediately placed in water when purchased. Other concerns include the length of time Christmas trees are on display (retail stores often set up outdoor displays of trees before Thanksgiving.)  The species of tree and the rate of moisture loss are important factors in determining the extent of moisture loss. Of the various types of evergreen trees available, the Noble fir retains its moisture longer than other species. The best preventive measures include using a freshly harvested tree, cutting the butt or bottom end immediately before placing it in water, and checking the water level frequently to ensure that the tree water container is filled. The person responsible for the display should check the tree periodically. When needles shed easily, the tree should be removed or replaced, since trees dry from the inside out. These days, artificial Christmas trees come in all shapes and sizes.  They even come pre-lit (who wants to spend the time stringing the lights? Not me!)  UL has published a fantastic white paper about the reducing the fire risk of pre-lit trees.  This publication addresses the research that led to the development of performance testing criteria for pre-lit artificial trees.  It is a valuable resource for consumers and code officials when evaluating the safety of artificial trees. NFPA 1 addresses Christmas trees in Section 10.13: Artificial vegetation and artificial Christmas trees must be labeled or otherwise identified or certified by the manufacturer as being fire retardant. Allowances for Christmas trees are specified by occupancy and found in Table Note: Christmas trees are prohibited or limited in their placement in occupancies that pose special problems due to the capabilities of occupants, occupant or management control, or the number of occupants. Some exceptions permit live, balled trees, if maintained, and trees in locations where automatic sprinkler systems are installed. Artificial vegetation and artificial Christmas trees must be labeled or otherwise identified or certified by the manufacturer as being fire retardant. The fire retardance is demonstrated by each individual decorative vegetation item, including any decorative lighting, in an approved manner. Christmas trees can not obstruct corridors, exit ways, or other means of egress. Only listed electrical lights and wiring can be used on natural or artificial Christmas trees. Do not locate open flames such as from candles, lanterns, and heaters on or near Christmas trees. Where a natural cut tree is permitted, the bottom end of the trunk must be cut off with a straight fresh cut at least 1⁄2 in. (13 mm) above the end prior to placing the tree in a stand to allow the tree to absorb water. The tree is to be placed in a suitable stand with water and the water level must be maintained above the fresh cut and checked at least once daily. The tree shall be removed from the building immediately upon evidence of dryness. In addition to the Code requirements, NFPA also provides a resource page dedicated to Christmas tree and decoration fires. Have you had any trouble enforcing provisions for Christmas trees? How does your facility ensure Christmas trees are maintained? Stay safe, and happy holidays!

NFPA 1: Inspection, testing, and maintenance of water-based fire protection systems and NFPA 25 reference in the Fire Code. #FireCodefridays

Phew, I made it. It's still Friday so this post is in just in time!  I've been fortunate enough to have spent most of the past two days attending the launch of NFPA's new training program: Hands-on 2-Day Training for Facilities Managers – Essentials for Life Safety and Fire Protection.  The training incorporates information and hands on activities for Facility Managers related to NFPA 101, NFPA 80, NFPA 72, NFPA 25, NFPA 3, NFPA 4, and NFPA 96.  It was a great program and a great experience being able to attend the first event! One of the portions of the program that I was most looking forward to was the education and training on NFPA 25, Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems, as this is a document that I have little background on, but is so relevant to many other NFPA codes and standards.  NFPA 25 establishes the minimum requirements for the periodic inspection, testing, and maintenance of water-based fire protection systems and the actions to undertake when changes in occupancy, use, process, materials, hazard, or water supply that potentially impact the performance of the water-based system are planned or identified. I learned that the inspections required by NFPA 25 are intended to focus on general wear and tear of the system.  Design evaluations are outside of the scope of an NFPA 25 inspection.  They are not intended to reveal installation flaws or code compliance violations, rather to assess the operating condition of the system.   NFPA 25 is referenced a number of times throughout NFPA 1, Fire Code, and is an important reference for AHJs  just as it is Facility Manager.  Chapter 13 of the Code addresses fire protection systems, including requirements for standpipe systems, automatic sprinklers, fire pumps, water supply, portable fire extinguishers, and fire alarms.  For each of the water-based systems addressed by Chapter 13 a reference to NFPA 25 is provided. In addition, some sections from NFPA 25 are directly extracted into Chapter 13 to provide additional guidance to the code official.   Examples of Code references to NFPA 25 are as follows: A standpipe system installed in accordance with this Code shall be inspected, tested, and maintained in accordance with NFPA 25, Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems. A sprinkler system installed in accordance with this Code shall be inspected, tested, and maintained in accordance with NFPA 25. Backflow prevention devices shall be inspected, tested, and maintained in accordance with the requirements of NFPA 25, Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems. NFPA 25 is a staple for Facility Managers, code officials, and contractors.  NFPA offers a variety of resources on this document including Handbooks, online training, classroom training and additional NFPA 25 specific hands-on training. Happy Friday! 

NFPA 1: Requirements for heating appliances, #FireCodefridays

With the flip of the calendar to November, the time of year has arrived (at least in New England) where we need to inevitably turn on the heat. Fall and winter bring their own set of fire safety challenges and users and code officials must be aware of safe practices to help ensure fires caused by heating devices are kept to a minimum. One of the most common hazards during this time is the use of space heaters.  NFPA 1, Fire Code, provides requirements to regulate the use of these devices: 11.5.3 Portable Electric Heater. The AHJ shall be permitted to prohibit use of portable electric heaters in occupancies or situations where such use or operation would present an undue danger to life or property. Portable electric heaters shall be designed and located so that they cannot be easily overturned. All portable electric heaters shall be listed. During cold weather, portable electric space heaters are used in many locations, including under desks in offices. Although placing a heater under a desk or table lessens the chance of the heater being easily overturned, the heater also can easily be forgotten. A heater that is left on for an extended time can overheat combustible materials that might also be stored under the desk or table. Managers of facilities that allow the use of electric space heaters should be instructed to remind employees to shut them off at the end of the day and keep combustible material away from the heater. In addition, because of the amount of electric current drawn by space heaters, electric heaters should be used only where they can be plugged directly into appropriate receptacles or extension cords of adequate current capacity. (See 11.1.5 for requirements addressing extension cords.) The AHJ is permitted to prohibit the use of space heaters where an undue danger to life or property exists. The AHJ can use past inspection findings, such as portable heaters that were left turned on and unattended, fire incidents, and other reasons to prohibit the use of such heaters. For additional information on space heater safety, check out NFPA's Safety Tip Sheet. You can follow me on Twitter for more updates and fire safety news @KristinB_NFPA. 
1 ... 59 60 61 62 ... 65

Latest Articles