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Important safety features to include in your building

Building codes throughout the country have seemingly endless lists of rules intended to ensure the safety of building occupants. Beyond code requirements, there are additional things that can be done to further protect both your building and its occupants. Especially in buildings that often accommodate aging populations, extra safety measures can improve the accessibility and usability of your space.

Below, we review several important safety features you should consider including in your building design to keep occupants safe and happy.

  1. Passive fire protection

    Passive fire protection features are incorporated into your building’s design and construction to protect the building and its occupants during a fire. These features are designed to limit flame spread and extend the amount of time your building will remain intact, which can help save lives and reduce financial damage from a fire.

    Examples of passive fire protection include fire-resistant building materials and strengthened elements in the building structure. It also includes construction methods that slow the spread of fire and smoke, such as fire-rated walls, fire shutters, fire-rated doors in stairwells, fire-resistant ductwork, and fire-stop boards added halfway up the wall framing. Items within your building can also offer passive fire protection, including fire-retardant furniture.

    Finally, passive fire protection can be as simple as properly defining the maximum occupancy for a space and adhering to it. Maximum occupancies are important as they consider how many people could safely evacuate the space in the event of a fire.

  2. Active fire protection

    Just as the building can be designed to passively resist the spread of fire, the building can also have specialized systems to actively combat a fire. The most common example is a sprinkler system that uses water to suppress active fires. These systems are incredibly effective at slowing the spread of severe fires long enough for occupants to evacuate and, in some cases, can completely stop the fire.

    Fire alarm systems are another example of active fire protection that alerts occupants to the presence of fire so they can evacuate quickly. Smoke sensors in the ductwork will shut down HVAC systems once smoke is detected.

    In addition to active fire protection systems that must be built into the building, you’ll also need to include an adequate number of easily accessible fire extinguishers throughout the building, especially in areas where small fires are likely to occur, such as kitchens. Fire extinguishers should be serviced annually.

  3. Accessibility for persons with disabilities

    The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires measures that make buildings more accessible to persons with disabilities. While there are exemptions for religious entities, often your building must comply with many of these items that are included in building codes, especially if you are renovating or updating your building. Examples of accessibility features include handrails, ramps and bathroom grab bars.

    In addition to the measures required to keep your building safe for persons with disabilities, you should consider further aiding in their safety by adding good lighting to walking areas and other potentially hazardous areas, and ensuring that any rugs or doormats stay securely in place.

  4. Non-slip flooring

    Non-slip flooring is another feature that will help keep everyone who uses your building safe from the risk of slipping and falling.

    Many schools and churches include commercial kitchen spaces. These spaces often become full of grease and moisture, which can cause flooring to becoming slippery. Consider installing specially designed non-slip flooring to provide extra traction and protect individuals who will be working in these spaces, often at a fast pace.

  5. Emergency lighting

    In the event of a power outage, it is crucial that individuals can continue to navigate the space safely. Installing emergency lighting that comes on when the power goes out is essential so occupants can more safely find their way around your building. This becomes especially important if the power outage is a result of inclement weather or another event that requires individuals to find safety or evacuate the building.

    In addition to emergency lighting, your building will need exit signs that remain lit even during a power outage so occupants can easily and safely locate exits at any time.

Other safety measures that keep occupants safe

In addition to incorporating safety features into your building design, it is important to keep up with the maintenance of your building and these safety systems. This includes regularly testing the systems mentioned above to ensure they will operate properly when needed. Here are some other examples and regular safety measures to maintain throughout your building:

  • Regularly inspect and maintain heating and cooling systems to keep the building at temperatures suitable for occupants and reduce the likelihood of equipment fires. A properly functioning heating system also reduces the risk of freezing temperatures in your building that could lead to frozen and burst pipes and the resulting significant water damage to your facility.

  • Regularly walk around the facility to identify and correct fall hazards such as objects in walkways, missing or loose handrails, and poor lighting. Never block exits or hallways with large items to reduce the risk of tripping and in case evacuation becomes necessary.

  • Ensure that fire department valves and connections are clear and easily accessible. During a fire, quick access to these connections could save lives.

Roger Marx is a contributor to the Innovative Building Materials blog. He is a content writer for the construction and home improvement industries with an interest in landscaping, outdoor remodeling and home renovation. Roger is focused on educating homeowners, contractors and architects on innovative materials and methods of construction that increase property value and improve sustainability.