An unfinished building is not terribly safe by it’s nature. Construction workers are trained to avoid the ordinary hazards, and the building codes are different for buildings under construction. Wires hang out of electrical boxes, and life electrical outlets may be uncovered, bare conductors visible to the eye. All of these things will be put right before the building is turned over to its new owners, but putting them right takes time and there are a lot of things to do. But all is different when the building is occupied. It cannot be assumed that the owners possess any special safety training, or even common sense. A Life Safety Inspection is performed so that even a deserving candidate for a Darwin Award should be safe inside. Particularly from fire.

A Life Safety Inspection is one of the final building inspections in the construction process. A Life Safety Inspection must be passed before anyone can occupy the building. While inspectors from the various trades may be present, the Life Safety Inspection is run by the Fire Marshall. In essence, Life Safety is mostly about fire prevention, for it is fire that kills more people than anything else. The fire marshall is primarily concerned with fire barriers, the proper operation of the fire alarm system, building fire suppression systems, including both fire extinguisher and sprinklers, building lighting for emergency exit and egress and that at least one person on the premises be trained in what to do in the event of an emergency.

The biggest asset in keeping people alive are national and local building codes, backed by an active inspection system. Inspectors force everyone to play fair, to build using sound practices and not cut corners for a few dollars. Building codes are constantly being revised using new experience. For example, the National Electric Code {NFPA 72} is revised every three years. Fire Alarm systems are covered in NFPA 70

First of all, the Fire Marshall will worry about limiting the spread of fire through fire barriers. Different parts of large commercial buildings are built to serve as fire barriers. They are time rated in hours, with both doors and wall being built to applicable standards. Perforations in the wall must be sealed, either with fire caulking, fire blocking blocks, drywall mud or other means. Drywall may have to be thickened to two or more layers as required by local building codes. Ceilings also must be of an appropriate type, with great concern to the spreading of smoke, as smoke rises and in many buildings room walls only extend a few feet above the dropped ceiling. Often the above ceiling area is used as a plenum for the HVAC -- Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning- systems cold air return. If so all wiring above the ceiling must be plenum rated, which means that the askarels of the wire insulation must not produce any toxic gasses when burned, or protected by an electrical raceway, such as a conduit. Some of that is handled in the electrical inspection process, particularly in a ceiling inspection, but anything that can spread smoke may be part of Life Safety.

The Inspector will check to see that fire dampers are installed, and operating properly in the HVAC ducts. A damper is simply a sort of door that closes off the duct. It can be operated manually by the fire alarm system, or simply be of a metal that changes shape when heated, and thus releases the damper.

The Fire Marshall will also want to inspect the fire alarm system. Each and every device will be tested, whether it is a horn/strobe to warn the occupants or duct smoke detector hiding inside the building’s ducting, it must be tested for safe operation. Fire alarms must also supervise itself for normal operation, and it will placed in a trouble condition to check and see if the system can detect any failures. He or she may check sound pressure levels to ensure that the alarms are loud enough to wake anyone inside. Smoke detectors are smoked, and then disconnected. If an HVAC unit is to be shut down in the event of smoke, it’s shutdown will be tested. Every singe device is to be verified. The Marshall will also make sure that the alarm automatically contacts the central monitoring station, to ensure that it will summon the fire department quickly. If the building is very large, requiring more than a day to inspect, and the early parts of the inspection go smoothly, the Marshall may begin performing random checks only. If he or she does that, you can bet they're happy.

The sprinkler system must also be monitored, so that any waterflow of pump operation will trigger an alarm, or any operation of the fire valves will be detected as a trouble. This makes it tougher for arsonists to disable a sprinkler system before burning a building. Or more likely, to ensure that a well-meaning maintenance worker remembers to put everything back into working order when finished.

Lighting must also be arranged to ensure that the people inside the building can see to get out of it. Exit signs must be located to direct unfamiliar or confused people to safe exits. Emergency or egress lighting must be provided. If backup is provided by a generator, then the generator must start and provide stable power within 90 seconds of a power failure. Generators must also be monitors by the fire alarm system.

Electrical plates and switches must be installed and covered, as consistent with safe operation by the blondest of occupants.

If everything operates properly the Fire Marshall may pass the exam, but normally he or she has suggestions within the code. If the blueprints do not locate a Fire Alarm pull station within six feet of an exit, the Marshall will normally order their installation, at owner’s expense. Minor changes do not normally fail an exam, though a follow up inspection to ensure is required after the required work is completed. But any major deficiencies will fail the exam.

Life Safety inspections are demanding and time consuming process, but they are one reason that fire related deaths have steadily declined over the years. Without a life safety inspection, the owners may not occupy the building. A building that has passed life safety, particularly if it meets all modern codes, is a rather safe place to be.

liveforever tells me that in Denmark the inspection is much more general and if satisfied the inspector issues an "ibrugtagningstilladelse". I'm not even going to imagine how that is pronounced, but it seems to equate to a US occupancy permit.

Life Safety Inspections are part of the US construction process, but I'd be willing to bet that every developed nation has it's equivalent. If you know what they are called, /'msg me and I'll add them.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.