Below are the top 10 fire safety hazards that are
frequently encountered in NIH facilities that can be easily spotted, corrected,
and more importantly, prevented.
1. Blocked or locked exit doors
Exit doors are required by fire codes to be unobstructed
so that they are readily obvious in the event of an emergency. In addition,
exits doors are required to be unlocked and readily available any time the
building is occupied.
2. Storage in stairwells
Stairwells are prohibited by fire codes to be used for
storage or for the installation of equipment not necessary for safety. The
objective is to not use the stairwell for any purpose that has the potential to
interfere with its use as an exit.
3. Fire doors propped open
Required fire doors in NIH facilities are typically doors
to stairwells, mechanical/electrical rooms, and corridor doors to laboratory
work areas. Fire codes prohibit the blocking or wedging of fire doors in the
open position so that fire doors are always ready to serve their intended
purpose -- to prevent the spread of fire, smoke and hot gases.
4. Improper use of extension cords
Make sure all extension cords and power strips are
approved by the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) and have a UL label. Sometimes
extension cords and power strips that are not UL approved do not have a
sufficient protective coating over the wires. Electrical shocks, burns or fires
can result from using unapproved equipment.
Do not "daisy chain" power strips with
extension cords. In other words, do not hook several extension cords together
to energize a power strip located far away from an electrical outlet.
Electrical resistance increases with cord length and can cause overheating,
leading to a fire or equipment failure. In addition, hooking several power
strips together can result in an overload, which can cause a fire, trip a
circuit breaker, or cause a loss of power to the electrical equipment plugged
into the power strips.
Do not use power strips or extension cords for high power
loads such as microwave ovens, refrigerators or space heaters. Power strips and
extension cords are for use with low power loads such as computers and audio or
visual equipment according to the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration. In addition, inspect the wattage of everything plugged into a
power strip. Add up the total wattage of all items plugged into the power
strip. Do not exceed the total electrical wattage the power strip or extension
cord is rated to handle to avoid the hazards of a fire or damage to the
electrical equipment plugged into the strip.
5. Material/equipment in corridors that impede egress
A proper means of egress allows unobstructed travel at
all times. Fire codes require means of egress to be continuously maintained
free of all obstructions or impediments for full instant use in the case of a
fire or other emergency.
6. The use of portable space-heating devices in
laboratories and health care areas
Fire codes and NIH policy prohibit portable space-heating
devices in all health care areas and laboratory work areas.
7. Flammable or combustible liquids and compressed gas
cylinders in corridors
NIH Policy Manual 1361 (Corridor Utilization) prohibits
the use of corridors for the storage of flammable or combustible liquids and
compressed gas cylinders of all sizes. The restriction on the storage of
flammable or combustible liquids in corridors is intended to eliminate
significant fuel sources for a fire. Cylinders containing compressed gases
present a particular hazard because of their high pressure and can act as a
missile by reaching a high speed in an extremely short period of time if the
valve mechanism breaks. For additional information, please use the following link
to NIH Policy Manual 1361 (Corridor Utilization): http://oma.od.nih.gov/manualchapters/management/1361/.
8. Tampering with fire protection equipment
Fire codes prohibit any person from tampering with or
rendering any portable (i.e. fire extinguisher) or fixed fire protection system
or device (i.e. automatic sprinklers, fire alarm system devices, etc.)
inaccessible or obstructed from view and/or for proper operation.
9. Missing ceiling tiles
A missing ceiling tile can easily allow hot products of
combustion from a fire to rise through the ceiling opening and collect in the
space above the ceiling. This effect can severely delay the activation time of
automatic fire sprinklers that have been installed at the ceiling level. If you
see ceiling tiles being removed by workers in your workplace, please remind the
workers to have the ceiling tiles reinstalled in their exact location.
10. Use of equipment with damaged or exposed electrical
Do not use equipment with wiring that is damaged, including
cuts or exposed wires. In addition, do not place power cords where they can
incur damage during use. Damaged wiring on extension cords or power strips can
cause fires and touching a single exposed wire can cause an electrical shock or
The Division of the Fire Marshal (DFM), Office of
Research Services, greatly appreciates the ongoing assistance and support of
the NIH community as our advocates for keeping NIH facilities fire safe.
To report a fire safety issue or concern directly to the
DFM online, please use the following link: http://www.ors.od.nih.gov/ser/dfm/Pages/Community-Complaint-Report.aspx.
For questions or assistance regarding any
workplace fire safety matter, please contact the DFM at 301-496-0487.