3 Things You Need to Know About Life Safety Standards for Business Occupancies

For medical office buildings owned by hospitals or rented for hospital employed physicians, there’s a new sheriff in town. Beginning July 1, 2021, CMS and Joint Commission surveys will include new life safety standards for these business occupancies.

While regulatory surveys are nothing new for medical office buildings, previously they focused on infection control and patient care, with only passing attention paid to building safety. That’s changing with these new standards, and hospitals, outpatient clinics and hospital-employed physician offices should be prepared for increased scrutiny of everything from fire extinguisher placement to exit signs to fire-rated doors, says Ernie Allen, a life safety consultant for HealthTechS3.

Allen will be presenting a must-attend webinar on July 16 outlining how to comply with these new standards. In the meantime, he offers these 3 things to know now about life safety standards for business occupancies.

1. The standards for hospitals are still more rigorous.

Whereas the life safety code for hospitals spans several chapters, Allen points out that the code for business occupancies is just a few pages. But don’t sigh relief just yet. Allen, who has been conducting life safety surveys to help facilities prepare for the real one, says infractions have been common.

“Whereas before regulators might be checking to see that you have fire extinguishers, now they’ll be checking for the correct placement of fire extinguishers,” he says. (For the record, fire extinguishers have to be mounted every 75 feet and no more than 5 feet from the ground to the top of the handle.)

In the webinar, he’ll be breaking down the life safety code for business occupancies and sharing photo examples to help you easily identify compliance issues like these.

2. Minor deficiencies can add up.

Adding another fire extinguisher to a long hallway. Replacing missing sprinkler escutcheons (that’s the protective ring around a sprinkler head). Moving supplies farther away from a sprinkler head. These may sound like minor issues, but Allen says they’re still worth avoiding in the first place.

“A lot of them will be easy fixes, but even small safety issues can add up quick on a surveyor’s score card,” he says. “Then, you’re not only scrambling to bring your facility into compliance, but you’re also dealing with a public relations issue. The public won’t understand that these were all minor deficiencies. They will just see that the building got a poor score and they will think it’s unsafe for patients to be in.”

The best way to avoid this is to take a proactive approach to life safety surveys, fixing problems before they’re identified by a regulator.

3. Be vigilant during the survey process.

In the past, nurse surveyors and sometimes physicians would visit business occupancies, but they focused on infection control and patient care, “with only a few minor recommendations related to the building,” Allen says. But now, these clinical surveyors have been trained to evaluate a wide range of standards regarding life safety and environment of care, which will likely result in more recommendations.

The problem is that these clinical surveyors aren’t life safety experts.

“I worry the physician and nurses will get carried away, or maybe confuse the more rigorous life safety code for hospitals with the one for business occupancies.”

While you may be hesitant to question a surveyor during a survey for fear of retaliation, Allen says it’s best to speak up or ask for clarification if you disagree with something. “It’s so much easier to clear up an issue while the survey is still happening than to get it erased from a report.”

This also underscores the importance of knowing the code and being prepared. Start this path to preparedness by attending Allen’s webinar on July 16. The presentation will include photo examples of focus areas and a checklist to help you prepare. Reserve your spot today.