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Fire Safety When Returning to the Physical Workspace

In anticipation of NIH staff returning to the physical workspace after a long period of working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Division of the Fire Marshal (DFM), Office of Research Services, would like to help everyone do so safely. When returning to your physical workspace, keep in mind the following fire safety precautions. Remember, it is ALWAYS easier, and usually cheaper, to implement adjustments or physical changes properly the first time rather than make corrections later.

Fire Lanes

If you drive to work, your first consideration after returning should be parking safely. After a period away from campus, regulations may slip your mind while parking or pausing to unload equipment. Fire lanes are designated to provide adequate space for fire and police response vehicles and quick access to buildings, fire hydrants, sprinkler/standpipe system connections, and fire alarm control rooms. Fire lanes are designated by "NO PARKING-FIRE LANE" signs and yellow or red curbing. Any vehicle in a designated fire lane on the NIH Main Campus is subject to fines and towing.

Exit Paths

Social distancing may dictate physical changes to workspaces, but this must be done safely to avoid creating other problems. Moving desks, furniture, partitions, and equipment can reduce aisle width, increase travel distance to exits, and create other arrangements that lengthen time for occupants to escape. Moving items can also block equipment such as fire extinguishers and fire alarm pull stations. Before making any such changes, consult with the DFM to ensure compliance. Corridor-specific requirements can be found in the NIH Corridor Policy:

Temporary Barriers

Another potential aspect of social distancing may be the hanging of screens or barriers from the ceiling. If not done carefully, these can block fire protection features such as sprinkler heads, fire alarm devices, exit signs, and emergency lights. Again, DFM is available to conduct the proper review and inspection before any such barriers are installed. Small projects done by institutes can use the "IC-Self Performance Program/Handyman Services" program by following the procedures here:

Storage of Supplies

You may be ordering more supplies than usual to conduct operations upon returning to work. It is important that the storage of combustibles be in properly protected rooms. Storage in corridors is not permitted by the corridor policy mentioned above. Before you place storage in aisles within rooms, or in rooms other than storage rooms, consult with DFM to evaluate the adequacy of the sprinkler system, walls and doors, and exit paths.

Hand Sanitizer Dispensers

Due to its flammability, the fire code has limitations on hand sanitizer. Individual fluid dispensers cannot exceed 1/3 gallon in corridors and 1/2 gallon in rooms. Dispensers mounted on a wall must not be above or directly adjacent to ignition sources such as outlets and light switches; and they cannot be closer than 48 inches to each other. Before you store a total of 5 gallons or more consult with DFM for proper precautions.

Food Warming or Cooking

As the campus institutes the back to the physical workspace plans, cafeteria re-openings may be staggered. Depending on your location in relation to the nearest open cafeteria, you may be tempted to do more cooking or warming in your workspace. Please see DFM's information for the limitations and safe use of portable cooking appliances here:

Electrical Equipment

When returning laptops, printers, or other office equipment used for teleworking, their power cords may have been damaged or crushed at home, during transport back to the NIH campus, or during re-installation. Inspect all cords prior to plugging them back in. Do not use extension cords as a substitute for permanent wiring. Do not "daisy-chain" power strips in series, and only use them within their capacity. Information on portable cooking equipment and space heaters can be found here:

If you have any questions regarding these back-to-work issues on campus, please contact the NIH Division of the Fire Marshal at 301-496-0487 or use the DFM fire hazard reporting tool: You may remain anonymous when reporting a hazard, but it always helps us to have a contact so we can obtain additional information if needed.

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