Most people probably don’t associate reviewing tub and shower installations with the typical Life Safety Code inspector; but that’s about to change. New provisions in the upcoming 2018 edition expand the Code’s scope to include accidental fall prevention and requirements for grab bars in new bathtubs and showers. While the Code has historically been primarily concerned with life safety from fire, over the past 20 or so years, the scope has been gradually expanding to include not only fire, but also “similar emergencies.” Other topics addressed by the Code outside the realm of fire include crowd safety in assembly occupancies, and expanded criteria for hazardous materials, also coming in the 2018 edition.
Fall prevention isn’t actually new to the Code. For many years, it has regulated stair tread and riser dimensions to not only allow them to be used for egress during an emergency, but also to reduce the trip and fall hazard during day-to-day use. Handrails and guards have also been required for many years for the same reasons. Slip-resistant walking surfaces on means of egress components and essentially level thresholds at doors also serve to reduce the hazard of tripping and falling.
Now, however, the concept of fall prevention is expanding beyond means of egress and into tubs and showers. Although, proponents of the concept argued if you’re in the shower and there’s an emergency, you need to be able to safely egress. Others argued the tub/shower can’t be part of the means of egress because of the Code’s requirements for level and slip-resistant walking surfaces. This was a subject of significant debate during the development of the 2018 edition of NFPA 101. Ultimately, it was determined that grab bars should be required for new tubs and showers, but the requirements should not be located in the means of egress provisions of Chapter 7. Rather, they will be located in Chapter 24 with the means of escape requirements for one- and two-family dwellings. They are not, however, limited to one- and two-family dwellings. Other occupancy chapters also mandate them via reference to the Chapter 24 criteria. Given the amount of debate during the technical committee meetings on this subject, it was somewhat surprising that no notices of intent to make a motion (NITMAMs) were filed to further debate the subject on the floor of the annual technical meeting at the upcoming NFPA Conference and Exposition in Boston. For all intents and purposes, it’s a done deal; grab bars will be included in the 2018 edition of NFPA 101. (The grab bar provisions can be reviewed in 24.2.8 of the NFPA 101 Second Draft Report.)
While the inclusion of grab bars in NFPA 101 was the subject of lots of debate, no one could argue against the injury statistics presented to the various technical committees. Falls from transferring into and out of bathtubs and showers rank second only to falls on stairs in terms of numbers of fall injuries requiring hospitalization. In 2010, bath and shower-related injuries led to some 263,000 hospital emergency room (ER) visits in the United States at a cost of about 20 billion dollars. This is more than ten times the number of civilian fire injuries (fewer than 20,000) that same year. Stair-related injuries were responsible for about 1.2 million ER visits at a cost of about 92 billion dollars. This is a significant public health issue, and the new NFPA 101 requirements will start to chip away at these annual injuries and costs.
Thanks to longtime NFPA 101 technical committee member Jake Pauls for permission to use his photos and providing the injury statistics cited in this post.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, stay safe.
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