Complacency Leads to Deterioration
National Building Safety Month is recognized annually each May. This occasion acts as a reminder to businesses, nonprofit organizations and governmental agencies of the need to develop safety and inspection teams and plans to maintain the safety of their facilities. Too many organizations rely on the inspection services of their local building officials and fire marshals. With governmental spending cuts across the nation, local safety organizations are being asked to do more with less, and building officials may not be able to conduct regular safety inspections as they did in the past.
As a Life Safety Director responsible for the inspection and safety of all agency buildings, it is important to develop a program to ensure all buildings remain safe for employees and visitors. We face daily challenges to maintain building code compliance -- ranging from lack of maintenance, budget cuts, personnel cuts, or lack of a formal inspection program. As code enforcers, safety officials, and facility coordinators should not let these challenges affect the safety of our buildings. We must be proactive about safety and not rely solely on our employees to report safety issues that exist in our buildings. Although vigilant, most employees may not realize the significance of some of the things that catch their eye while going about their duties such as missing fire extinguishers, exit signs no longer illuminated, penetrations in the wall, a broken door closure or the large hole in the wall for a new data cable. All of the items listed can allow a fire to spread unhindered. Aside from normal observation, we should take the extra step to inspect our storage and warehouse spaces to mitigate safety issues that could endanger our personnel.
When inspecting facilities, we will often notice hazards that have long gone unreported – perhaps staff believe that no one cares to get the problems resolved, or do not realize the significance of the hazard they are seeing. With limited staff, safety and facility personnel do not always have the time or resources to immediately resolve all safety problems. As safety officials, we need to educate coworkers so they can be an extension of our eyes and ears and help identify potential hazards. For example, an electrical outlet that sparked or a broken floor tile that is causing tripping should always be reported. Whether it is an email or a phone call, informing facility or safety units of a problem prevents injuries… or worse.
Safety professionals should not wait until the fire marshal conducts routine inspections; we need to be proactive, not reactive, regarding the safety of our buildings and our fellow coworkers. Conferences and workshops are available to help you stay up to date on the latest code changes. If you cannot find a course, contact your local fire marshal or building official; they may be able to help you build a basic safety check list that can be used to conduct routine inspections of facilities. Make a point to tour facilities on a regular basis, ensure the buildings are safe for occupancy and don't let them deteriorate before your eyes. Safety is everyones responsibility!
Orlando P. Hernandez
Life Safety Coordinator
Texas Division of Emergency Management