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February 16, 2012 -
Health care construction and facility operations are among the most heavily regulated industries in the United States. This is because in general the patients are considered incapable of self-preservation. As a result, the staff has to direct the emergency procedures for patients and visitors.
The focus on fire/life safety compliance doesn't end when construction is completed and occupancy begins. Ongoing inspection, testing and maintenance are mandatory, and the authorities having jurisdiction will demand documentation.
To be ready for this level of review, health care facility managers need to have a good grasp of the many requirements for ongoing testing, maintenance and documentation. Health care facilities use a concept known as defend-in-place to protect their vulnerable population. A defend-in-place approach consists of egress systems; passive fire-resistive containment and separations; and active fire protection systems such as fire detection and alarm, automatic sprinklers and other automatic suppression systems, stair pressurization, and smoke control. This package of passive and active systems provides the code-required level of life safety for the health care facility.
Defend-in-place is a key element of the criteria used to accredit facilities. Ongoing compliance requires steps to ensure that the active and passive systems remain functional and effective. That means, after initial construction and issuing of an occupancy permit, the focus of a facility manager shifts to inspection, maintenance and ongoing testing of the fire protection systems.