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4 Posts authored by: kevincarr Employee

In the past several months COVID-19 has impacted the globe with significant health, safety and economic challenges. Unfortunately, these challenges have, at times, disproportionately impacted those within the disability community.

 

According to the CDC, there are an estimated 61 million Americans who identify as being a person with a disability. This vibrant community is made up of individuals across all walks of life, covering every demographic and socioeconomic status. Yet, despite these numbers, and legal protections in place (more on that below), the impact COVID-19 has had on this vulnerable population is profound. News articles and blog posts tell individual stories that chronicle the loss of essential services, difficulty in accessing buildings, lack of planning and communication, and in some cases, marginalization.

 

Given this, how can building owners, facility managers, and others ensure that people with disabilities are respected, included in the planning process, and provided the required and appropriate safeguards? Please see below for five practical areas for consideration that may help navigate these challenges.

 

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Other Codes
It is important to remember that people with disabilities are afforded rights and protections under federal law. Since its landmark adoption in 1991, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has provided both the legal framework and design standards criteria to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities in everyday activities. Many states, as well as local jurisdictions, may also have requirements that mirror or exceed the ADA, so you will want to ensure compliance with those as warranted. Because the ADA is federal law it generally cannot be waived or reduced by local officials. Finally, unless directed by the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ), the provisions of adopted building, fire and life safety codes remain in force, even during COVID-19. Please consult your AHJ for specific requirements.

 

Emergency Action Plans (EAP)
These plans have many names but all provide a basic framework for building occupants to know what to do in the event of specific emergencies. These plans should include and address considerations for people with disabilities. Building owners and facility managers should ask the following questions: Is your EAP up to date? Is contact information for staff and vendors current? Have egress routes or other important building systems changed over the past few months? When was the last fire drill or emergency evacuation drill? Should your EAP need a refresh please see NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, section 4.8 for specific requirements. Another great resource is the Emergency Evacuation Planning Guide for People with Disabilities, published by the NFPA Disability Access Review and Advisory Committee (DARAC). This guide can be a useful tool to help bring essential needs and considerations to light.

 

Building Entries
Many buildings have adjusted their entries and lobbies to now require such features as staggered entry, mask deployments and temperature checks. How have these important and pragmatic changes taken people with disabilities into account? The following questions should be considered: Are entries free and clear of obstruction? Is the entry accessible for those using wheelchairs or other mobility devices? Can reasonable accommodations be made to assist people with disabilities? Have staff been trained to provide information and assistance where needed? Finally, are there opportunities to promote inclusiveness? One interesting article shows how the wearing of opaque masks has become a communication barrier for people who must read lips. When employees assisting these customers wore transparent face masks these barriers were instantly removed.

 

Maintaining Egress
A bedrock principle of life safety is maintaining free and unobstructed egress at all times, and COVID-19 is no exception. As my colleague Greg Harrington wrote in a blog post geared toward business occupancies, “there is no justifiable reason for locking egress doors or otherwise compromising means of egress…”. So I will ask the question: are your means of egress available for use by all occupants, including people with disabilities? Are egress doors, corridors, exits and stairwells free and clear of obstruction? Has signage been provided in accessible formats to relay important information related to the building’s COVID-19 changes and updates? Are accessible means of egress available and ready for use if needed? A simple building tour may help to reveal and remedy many of these issues.

 

Temporary Structures (Tents)
The use of temporary structures, and especially tents, have been prevalent in many occupancies during the pandemic. Whether found in a health care setting (for patient screening), a mercantile occupancy (outdoor markets or retail) or a mercantile/assembly arrangement (outdoor dining), these structures present life safety challenges. Additionally, even with the best of intentions, they could introduce unintended consequences for staff and visitors alike. As my colleague Shawn Mahoney wrote, these structures have precautions that must be taken to ensure that fire and life safety is observed. Some questions to consider when planning for people with disabilities in these structures are: Are exits accessible? Are there any elevations that might pose a challenge to people with disabilities? Is the public way free and clear of obstruction for those who may utilize a sidewalk? Have staff been trained on what to do in the event of an emergency? Answering these questions will ensure that people with disabilities can navigate these structures safely, and importantly for business owners, to return for potential repeat business. For example, if there are minimal and reduced width entries/exits, tables arranged to not provide an adequate turning radius, and only high tables present, how could a person that utilizes a wheelchair, or other mobility device, frequent this establishment?

 

In closing, I believe that one thing that the Novel Coronavirus has reinforced is the need for inclusion and care for those around us. We are all in this together. As you walk around the buildings where you work, live or visit please remember to keep these questions at the forefront. This will allow buildings to truly be accessible for all, even during these unprecedented times.

 

Stay healthy, stay inclusive, and stay safe!

 

For the most up to date information from the NFPA regarding fire and life safety in the midst of COVID-19, be sure to check out https://www.nfpa.org/coronavirus.

 

COVID-19 is having an immediate and drastic impact on the construction industry with job sites being abandoned and workers being furloughed. A byproduct of these unprecedented pandemic-related changes has been the demobilization of construction/alteration/demolition sites. Authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs), contractors, installer/maintainers, facility managers and owners find themselves assessing appropriate steps to safeguard job sites and comply with local requirements.

 

To help, NFPA has released a tip sheet called Construction Site Safety During Emergencies. The new at-a-glance-guidance is designed to help parties implement the appropriate steps to maintain safety while complying with local requirements that are in effect now and may apply during future emergencies.

 

The tip sheet draws on the best practices found in NFPA 241, Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration and Demolition Operations. While NFPA 241 is not specifically intended for demobilization efforts, the standard provides time-tested benchmarks for the building and enforcement communities as they strive to keep construction sites safer during any phase of work.


The new resource centers around three critical questions:

 

  1. What existing conditions are currently onsite?
  2. What key requirements should be considered?
  3. How do these buildings properly resume operations when cleared to do so?

 

The guidance zeroes in on existing conditions found on job sites; the questions that should be asked and answered; the sections in NFPA 241 where information can be found; and other pertinent considerations. It emphasizes the importance of developing a Fire Safety Program that prioritizes good housekeeping, onsite security, fire protection systems, rapid communication and protection of existing structures; and underscores the need for a Fire Prevention Program Manager (FPPM) who will successfully carry out the Fire Safety Program with particular attention on fire protection devices, inspections, and impairments.

 

The new tool reminds members of the built environment to keep in mind that when government, building or fire officials announce that construction/alteration/demolition can resume – it is important to keep in mind others who may need to be considered such as federal, state, and local authorities, or certain insurance providers.


In addition to using the new tip sheet and taking a deeper dive via NFPA 241, consider using the downtime you may have these days to find out more about building under construction fires. My colleague Richard Campbell just published an updated version of the Fires in Structures Under Construction or Renovation report that looks at these types of fires, and includes, among other things:

 

  • Leading causes of fires and the direct property damage that resulted
  • Timing of fires, both in calendar months and time of day
  • Leading items that first ignited in structures
  • Types of heat sources that caused fires

 

In recent weeks, NFPA has provided a wide range of resources that support fully operational fire and life safety systems as required by the applicable codes and standards while balancing the realities of the current pandemic. Our goal is to support you and your work with useful resources and communications during this difficult time. How are we doing? How else can we help? Take our short survey and tell us what you think.

 

While remote video inspection (RVI) is new to many, it can represent an effective alternative to an on-site inspection, enabling one or more parties to remotely perform an inspection of a building or building component. As code officials, enforcers, and inspectors work to ensure building safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, NFPA has created a fact sheet that provides guidance on how to conduct an RVI.

 

This new resource, which is based on “Conducting Remote Video Inspections,” a white paper developed by NFPA’s Building Code Development Committee (BCDC), addresses several considerations, including setting clear expectations, selecting technology, location verification and sign-offs/follow-up. We encourage jurisdictions to review this guidance to become more familiar with the benefits as well as the limitations of RVI.

 

Just like traditional on-site or in person inspections, an RVI is typically associated within a jurisdiction’s permitting process, the project, or contract schedule, and needs to be approved by AHJ. Remote inspection may be able to accomplish critical and emergency permit work that is still underway. It is not intended to be less complete than an on-site inspection and can be employed to achieve the same (or enhanced) results as an on-site inspection.

 

RVI is currently in use in select jurisdictions across the US, although no formal standard governs its use. These jurisdictions often utilize everyday smartphone technologies to facilitate the inspection.

 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, NFPA has been continuing to provide key resources and information that address emergency planning, building, fire and life safety issues. Make sure to check our website regularly for new content and updates. Stay safe.

 

Fire potential during construction is inherently high, and NFPA 241, Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations, provides measures for preventing or minimizing fire damage to structures. Construction or demolition contractors, insurance professionals, risk managers, fire service professionals, building owners, and building engineers reference NFPA 241 to avoid fire dangers on the job.

 

In my recent NFPA Live session I discussed the changes to the 2019 edition and reviewed the fire prevention program manager roles and responsibilities. I received this follow-up question from a member. I hear this question a lot so I wanted to share it here with you. I hope you find some value in it.

 

NFPA Live is an interactive video series in which members of NFPA staff address some of the most frequent topics they receive through the Member's Only Technical Question service. If you are currently an NFPA Member you can view the entire video by following this link. If you're not currently a member, join today!

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