Ensuring Fire Safety While Protecting Employees from COVID-19

Hand opening closed office fire door

As we continue to combat the spread of COVID-19 within each of our workplaces, it’s important that the protocols we put in place do not create any additional safety concerns. To reduce the spread, we are all looking to reduce virus transfer in locations that require frequent contact. One such area is door handles. If you have identified this as an area of concern, you may be inclined to implement administrative controls by propping open doors, minimizing the need to have employees contact these surfaces.

While this may be a permissible practice for some doors, this is not the case for all. To control the spread of a fire, the International Building Code (IBC) has established requirements regarding the use of fire doors in certain locations. In the event of an actual fire, these doors serve an important role in keeping flames and smoke from spreading to different parts of the building, protecting occupants and minimizing overall property damage.

In addition to the IBC requirements, the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) also has regulations regarding the use requirements of these doors. As found in NFPA 101- Life Safety Code, (LSC) these regulations include:

Section Doors shall not be held open by devices other than those that release when the door is pushed or pulled. This is part of section "Corridor Doors", so it is referring to corridor doors only.

Section (1): Doors in smoke barriers must be self-closing. The term 'self-closing' means the door has to close by itself without assistance. A smoke barrier door that is wedged open will not close by itself.

Section Any door in an exit passageway, stairway enclosure, horizontal exit, smoke barrier, or hazardous area enclosure shall be permitted to be held open only by automatic release device that complies with These doors must be self-closing and may only be held open by a device that releases the door upon activation of the fire alarm system or sprinkler system.

Lastly, section states that any door required to have a fire protection rating must comply with NFPA 80, which requires self-closing devices on the doors. So, any fire-rated door is not permitted to be wedged or propped open. Fire rated doors can be identified by self-closers on the doors, as well as inspecting the edge of the door. A fire rated door will have a UL or cUL label on the door edge as well as the door frame. Any doors that are fire rated must remain in the normally closed position. Non fire rated doors, could be propped open to help minimize the spread of COVID-19.

To ensure that employee safety is not compromised in the event of a fire, a safer alternative to combating the spread of COVID-19 is to increase awareness of how this virus is transmitted. Encourage employees to take the time to frequently wash their hands and also implement cleaning and disinfecting protocols.

For more information on this topic, the NFPA recently published an article titled, “Don't Compromise Fire Safety While Responding to Coronavirus: Keep Fire Doors Operable.

In addition, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website provides a wealth of information and guidelines including recommended cleaning and disinfecting protocols and interim guidance for businesses and employers. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also published a list of Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2, which is a helpful resource to ensure that you have selected a good cleaning product and that contact time requirements are met.

As the COVID-19 pandemic intensifies, we must all do our part to identify opportunities to reduce the risk of cross contamination. However, in doing so let’s ensure that any changes we implement don’t have any consequential impacts that could compromise the safety of our employees.