Posts Tagged ‘Safety’


This morning as I was driving into work, I turned into the parking lot and had to stop because a worker wearing ear protection and carrying a weed whacker stepped into the travelway without looking up and stopped in the middle of the lane to make an adjustment to his equipment, again without looking up.  After several seconds he didn’t move and never looked up.  I have to assume that the reason he stepped in front of the car in the first place was because he didn’t hear the engine for the ear protection.

This begs the question: when does use of a safety device become endangerment?

The proper use of any safety appliance such as a hard hat, safety glasses, steel toed boots, fluorescent green vest and similar personal protective gear is essential for a safe workplace.  But simply putting on the equipment doesn’t guarantee a safe workplace.  It requires the most important piece of equipment; that located between our ears.  As we go about our jobs, and daily life for that matter, we need to be constantly aware of the world around us, even while focusing on the job at hand.  Simply paying attention would prevent a whole host of accidents.


Read Full Post »

Several years ago, I received a binder from a window manufacturer in response to a contact I made at Construct. The size tables in the catalog indicate which window units are in compliance with emergency egress and rescue requirements.

Fast forward to last week. Because of the age of the binder, we went to the manufacturer’s website to ensure that the sizes we are looking to use are still available.  What we found is that there are a wider choice of sizes available than there were eight years ago, but several of the windows that were labeled as egress compliant in the old catalog did not bear that designation on the website.  This is complicated by the fact that with the 2012 edition of the IBC, Exceptions 1 and 2 to Section 1029.1 have been eliminated.  Put succinctly, fully sprinklered buildings and buildings with two means of egress are now required to have emergency escape windows that were unnecessary under the 2009 IBC.

We contacted the manufacturer who steered us to an obscure feature on the website that allows the user to check the clear opening of each window size. The user is then left to make his/her own determination of whether the window complies with Section 1029.  Yes, this information is available via the website, but it is not readily apparent to the first time user.

So Mr./Ms. Manufacturer, please consider this your wake-up call. If the information is available, please put it where we can find it on your website.  Otherwise we will likely go to your competitor who has the information in a readily accessible location.

Read Full Post »

My membership in CSI paid for itself again last week.

“I can find the information on the internet.” I hear this statement often, and to a large extent, it is true.  But not all of the information is necessarily in one place, and it can be very difficult to connect the dots.  To my point, yes the information is there.  But knowing where to find it and what the limitations of said information are is not necessarily discernable from a single website or multiple websites.

With that said, I ran across an issue last week where a client was looking to do something that was apparently a code violation. Given that the issue involved electronic access/egress control and related fire safety issues, I reached out to a fellow CSI member and CCPR that I knew would have the answer.  Of course, he was eager to take my call and discuss how to meet my client’s intent.

As I suspected, the client’s original suggestion turned out to be explicitly prohibited by the International Building Code. As the conversation progressed, I was asked the appropriate questions about the client’s specific needs, which we discussed at length.  The response was immediate, as this particular issue is often a problem within my client’s industry, and my colleague often has to address this issue.  The solution to my client’s problem involves integrating my colleague’s product with a product of a different manufacturer, as neither company’s product would solve the problem in isolation.  By combining the two systems, the issues of security and life safety are both addressed and the client’s needs are met.

You would not find this information on a manufacturer’s website. Had I not been an active CSI member, I would not have been aware of who to call to get the needed information.  With apologies to Mastercard, the information available from a CCPR is priceless.

Read Full Post »

Yesterday, I became aware of a significant structural movement in a condominium building in Alexandria, Virginia. As best I can tell from the news stories on the subject, the movement and resulting damage are by-products of water intrusion and poor maintenance.

At issue (in the mind of this writer) is the relationship between the condo association and the owners themselves. Associations have a fiduciary obligation to be good stewards of their members’ funds.  This isn’t as simple as it sounds.  Oftentimes, an association will simply be cheap and pinch pennies in the interest of short-term cash flow.  This sort of thinking will often backfire when maintenance takes a back seat to expedience resulting in higher life-cycle cost when a major repair has to be made to compensate for deferred maintenance.

Without throwing rocks at anyone in the incident that inspired this post (this sort of thing often happens), maintenance is often overlooked when the manager is unaware that he/she needs to be watching for a hidden problem. Granted, such problems are often difficult to detect and diagnose.  This is where membership in an organization such as BOMA or CSI can be helpful.  I will focus on CSI, as it is the group I am most familiar with.

The membership of CSI is a professionally diverse group of experts on the built environment. We are members of the architectural, engineering, construction, supplying, and owning communities – emphasis in this case on the last one.  Active CSI members develop long term inter-professional relationships with one another.  As a result, we learn from one another.  More importantly, we know who to call when an issue arises or for advice on how to prevent an issue from arising.  In the case of one of my clients, it was a recent CSI encounter I had that prompted me to check into a looming facility problem.  Turns out, the problem was far worse than we anticipated, but preventative action was taken before the issue reached catastrophic proportions.

The takeaway for me is this: building owners, including managers of condominium associations, need to be active members of CSI. The relationships developed are a first line of defense against construction related problems that inevitably develop as a facility ages.  Information relating to membership in CSI can be found at http://www.csiresources.org/communities/membership/individual-membership .  Membership in a local chapter is invaluable.  For those in my locality, I look forward to meeting you at our next chapter meeting.

Read Full Post »

I have posted multiple times arguments for sprinklering buildings.  Most of the time when one thinks of fire protection systems, new construction comes to mind.  When NBC 29 Television in Charlottesville recently reported that the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation installed a new HI-FOG fire sprinkler at Monticello, it dawned on me that there is a place in historic preservation for fire sprinklers.

 That said, when preserving a historic property, first priority is to preserve as much original historic fabric as possible, making “minimal change to its distinctive materials, features, and spatial relationships” 1  To a great extent, it would give one pause to go boring holes in 200+ year old plaster.  But think of the consequence of not doing this and losing a significant historic structure to fire.

 Most of the historic buildings around here are wood framed, as the colonists did not have the resources to construct stone buildings.  As such, given the right combination of ignition and a good draft, the fuel contributed by the unprotected framing would go up in flames quickly running the risk of losing the entire structure and the historic fabric.

 So given the advances in fire protection technology over the last century, it makes sense to sacrifice small amounts of historic plaster in discrete locations for the good of the entire structure.  To be sure, there may be some water damage following a sprinkler activation, but water damage is reversible.  Reducing a historic structure to charred rubble is not.

 So to the staff at Mr. Jefferson’s Monticello, I salute you for taking a stand against fire and for preserving the house for the benefit of future generations.

1.  From NPS Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation

Read Full Post »

The City ofCharlottesvillerecently held a design competition to explore better ways to replace theBelmontBridgespanning the former C&O Railroad tracks.  The railroad right-of-way is now owned by CSX Corporation and leased to the Buckingham Branch Railroad.  Rail traffic these days includes local Buckingham Branch freight trains, long distance CSX coal trains, and Amtrak. 

 The existing bridge is a highway department standard design, constructed in 1961-62.  In recent years, it has fallen into disrepair due to, in this writer’s opinion, not so benign neglect by city officials.

 So in the interest of maintaining the city’s award winning aesthetic, a design competition was held.  The winning entry was submitted by students at the University of Virginia School of Architecture.  The proposal is to not build a new bridge, but replace it with a grade crossing.

 Granted, such a design would have a small town feel, but the students seem to be missing the fact that once they graduate, they will eventually be licensed by theCommonwealthofVirginia, or some other state, to protect the general health, safety, and welfare.  Putting railroad, automobile, and pedestrian traffic into the same physical space is doing exactly the opposite.  It is also not a green solution to the problem.

 My reasoning is this:  If automobile traffic is sitting at the grade crossing waiting for a train to pass, most will sit there with idling engines.  When sitting still, all internal combustion engines get the same mileage: zero MPG.  While idling, they are spewing out greenhouse gases (presumably CO2).  The pedestrians who are forced to wait for the train will be exposed to both automobile exhaust and diesel exhaust from the trains.

 I would state further that the greenest option is to not replace the bridge, but to maintain the existing structure.  Granted, this will involve replacing most of the concrete from the deck up, but the structural steel and substructure are sound.  So instead of spending a few hundred thousand to renovate the existing structure, millions will be spent, as the grade crossing option will be a non-starter on the part of the railroad.

 So this is an indictment of the local political process as well as the architectural academic community.  Instead of turning out graduates who are prepared to practice, we seem to be producing young professionals that don’t understand their obligation to society.

Read Full Post »

I have posted twice before arguments for sprinklering buildings.  The first, which I posted last August dealt primarily with protection of lives.  The second posting from last week addresses the loss of livelihood.  With this post, I will address the relationship of fire protection to green construction and environmental stewardship.

 The National Trust for Historic Preservation has long advocated that preservation of old buildings is the ultimate in green because of the embodied energy in the existing structure.  Folded in with the energy required to demolish the building and dispose of the debris and other related environmental (and human/cultural) costs and the energy required to redevelop the site, there is something approaching a threefold disadvantage to replacing buildings rather than reusing.

Fast forward to the topic at hand.  When buildings are destroyed by fire the embedded energy of the building is lost.  Again, the cost of cleaning up the rubble (no hope of recycling/reusing most of it) and the resources required to rebuild in essence triple the embedded energy of the facility.  Couple that with the environmental damage caused by the fire itself (metals melting, materials decomposing and/or off gassing during combustion, etc., and you could have a bona-fide disaster which could have been averted.

Given that we see about half a million structure fires annually, doesn’t it make environmental sense to sprinkler the buildings?

Read Full Post »

It has barely been forty-eight hours since a local restaurant was destroyed by fire.  Only the badly damaged walls remain.  Fortunately, there were no injuries.

 Had this building been fully sprinklered, there would only have been minor smoke and water damage.  Instead, the local fire marshal estimates the property damage at one million dollars.  I’m sure that the decision not to sprinkler the building was based on the fact that the a sprinkler system was not required by code and such a system would have cost in the neighborhood of $15,000 – $20,000 in today’s dollars, or two percent of the property loss.  False economy if you ask me.

 Had the building been sprinklered, there wouldn’t be employees facing the prospect of no job for the upcoming holidays.  Secondly, there would only have been a week or so of lost revenue instead of the months that the owners now face.  I am concerned, as well, that the owner may not be allowed to rebuild exactly the structure that burned, as local zoning regulations may force them to make significant design changes and endure the long approval process that goes along with them.

 All this being said, I would encourage business owners to consider the ramifications of saving a few bucks up front only to face losing fifty times as much and install a functioning fire suppression (sprinkler) system.  It may be your livelihood that goes up next. 

See also my post on this topic from last August.

Read Full Post »

Years ago, I was a big believer in compartmentalizing structures to prevent the spread of fire.  It was legal at the time to construct large buildings without sprinkler systems by breaking them up into smaller fire areas with fire separation walls and ceilings.  Two things occurred that changed my mind on the subject.  The first was the MGM Grand Hotel fire in Las Vegas on Nov 21, 1980, the second was a seminar I attended on firestopping at the CSI (Construction Specifications Institute) National Convention a few years thereafter.

According to the NFPA report on the fire, had the building been fully sprinklered, only two heads would have discharged knocking the fire down and confining it to a small area.  Subsequent water and smoke damage would also have been confined to a small area and the hotel would have been back in business in a day or two (if that long) instead of several months, and eighty-some lives would have been saved.

As to the failure of compartmentalizing, it is truly eye-opening to see how fast a small trash can fire will spread in a ten foot by ten foot office.  Within ten minutes the room will flash over.  If there is a penetration through the wall to an adjacent office such as an electrical conduit that isn’t properly firestopped, the annular space around the conduit will act a blowtorch in the wall.  Flashover of the second office will occur within four minutes of the first flashover.

Compartmentalization also fails in that if the fire separation assembly isn’t perfect, smoke will move freely through a structure.  It has long been established that most fire deaths are the result of smoke inhalation.  This is again mitigated by having a properly functional fire suppression system in place, as a fire that isn’t burning won’t generate smoke.

Given that to this author’s knowledge there has not been a fire fatality in a building with a properly functioning sprinkler system speaks volumes.  Every incident with fatalities in a sprinklered building of which I am aware the system was shut down or otherwise compromised at the time of the fire.

In addition to the preservation of life and property, there are several economic benefits to sprinklering a building.  To begin with, insurance companies typically will charge lower premiums for sprinklered buildings.  Secondly, in the event that a fire occurs, damage will be reduced and the facility will be down for a week or two instead of an interruption of business of months or years.

If I sound like a sprinkler salesman, to some extent I am, but only because I truly believe sprinklering a building is the best possible advice I can give my clients.  Unfortunately, I have to overcome the effects of Hollywood on popular perception – how often have we seen a scene where someone holds a lighter under a sprinkler head and the whole system discharges like a deluge system.  Reality is that only one or two heads will discharge in a typical fire.  Once I explain this, people are usually more receptive to sprinklering their building.  This security is available for just a few bucks per square foot.

Read Full Post »