Fire safety and locked exits.

I apologize if this is not the appropriate forum for this question.

I’m in a tizzy. I work in a very large hospital with many doors and exits. Recently, the hospital “Safety and Security” department has started having a massive lockdown “for safety reasons”. The Safety and Security Dept has really gone overboard. Here’s why I’m in a tizzy. Many of the doors that lead to the outside are locked 24 hours a day, you can’t get in OR out of these doors. Their reasoning is that they are trying to funnel all foot traffic through 2 or 3 main areas. Granted, many of these (now locked) exits are not used by the general public, but employees did use them. Now, here’s what concerns me. Several of these exits have illuminated “exit” signs at the top of the door.

It’s my understanding that it’s a law in the US that any door in a public place must remain unlocked if it’s got an illuminated exit sign above it. However, I can’t find anything via google or yahoo that supports this.

Can anyone point me in the right direction. I want to be prepared when I call the Fire Marshall.


That would be absolutely illegal here in New jersey, and I have no reason to think it would be otherwise in Virginia. I’d go ahead and call the Fire Marshall.

PDF linky.

WRONG idea, BAD idea, and YIKES!
On day one, you should have put in a call to a fire inspector. In fact, if the situation still exists. as you read this, call now. You are talking about a place of public assembly, a hospital for god’s sake, where probably a large portion of the occupants are bed ridden. Hell, if I got a brush off from the Fire Dept., which I would’nt believe, my next two calls would be to the Mayor and then, a newspaper! You say there are doors with exit signs that are locked. This is a disaster waiting to happen. How many employees, in a panic situation, are calmly going to remember that those doors are locked? How many patients and visitors will go for those doors? Sheesh!, I’m scaring myself with the possibilities of bad things happening. CALL somebody. my friend.

Here’s a link that you might find useful in terms of federal laws:

Among other things, it says (which I think was your question from the OP):

OSHA’s actual code language for fire safety is 29 CFR 1910 Subpart E (1910.33-1910.39).

Good luck, and I’d like to hear what happens.

Just noticed you’re in Virginia, which is a “state plan” state. For the record, the federal standards 1910.33-1910.39 have legally been adopted as state standards, with the exception of 1910.35 (which is apparently replaced by Virginia law 425-02-41).

Or anyway, that’s what this page appears to say. IANAL, and all that.

a tid bit here… ALL exits in a public place are not required to be unlocked. (err preview shows you mentioned “with lighted signs” my bad) There does have to be a set number of doors (based on occupancy and footage of building). From what you are describing… They are very much in violation of fire saftey code.

A door designated as a fire exit (the lit exit signs are a good indication) Must have a one point form of egress (fancy word for exit) Hence, an exit bar or a lever handle lockset meet the guildlines. add a deadbolt to the mix even if it has a thumbturn is a violation of the code if it is locked durring occupancy.
There are guildlines were a door is allowed to be alarmed and detain exit for up to 15 seconds. (many nursing homes have these type exit doors.)

The only time I have ever seen a door secured to forbid passage was with a electronic lock (magnetic lock) that was wired straight into the fire system where it disengaged once a fire alarm was activated. Depending where you are this set up will pass code.
Many companies do not install this due to liability issues (if lock fails to disengage when an alarm is pulled)

Your saftey and security people should have gone with an alarmed exit device that allows a 15 second delay, with only limited people having the keys to turn the alarm off, this would keep visitors and those employed at the hospital they do nto want coming into and out of the doors in question.

How out of curiosity are they securing the doors?
descriptions and pictures would be a great help.
From what you describe, the fire marshall should be made aware of the situation… I without the right to change my mind once I have a better idea of what kind of hardware and set up they have.

Who does this kinda stuff for a living

I’ll play (former) internal auditor for a minute, but I don’t know the fire code where you live so that’s really what should be checked.

As an auditor, when I checked for the availability of exits to employees in a manufacturing plant, I had no problem with the door locking from the outside - in fact, it was the preferred way for it to be - that prevents unauthorized people from entering the building. Where we did have a problem was if the doors could were locked from the inside (or blocked in any manner) so that employees (and in your case, patients or visitors) could not exit the building in a safe manner.

The other problem I’d have is with what you describe as funneling all foot traffic through 2 or 3 main areas. How many beds does your hospital have? How many people are likely to need to exit - including bedridden patients? With enough people, you end up with a slow moving mass pressing from the back of the crowd and the potential for injuries or deaths due to people falling and being trampled by the crowd.

A better solution, to me, is to allow the doors to open from the inside (a crash bar was how ours were normally set up in - in all our locations - manufacturing, distribution or administrative), because even if there is the press of a crowd, that bar will likely open from the pressure. Alarmed doors (with a delay) may also be a reasonable direction for your place of employ to go.

If I were you, I might look at internal resources for addressing the problem before going to the fire marshall. Here’s why: your hospital could end up penalized in some manner. My first step would be to identify someone within the hospital (administrator…internal auditor…whoever ) and request that they evaluate the locking of the doors with regards to liability and safety. If no steps are taken after a reasonable amount of time (a week? 2 weeks?..I’m not sure what is reasonable in this situation), then contact the fire marshall.

I forgot to say, if you report internally, put it in writing, rather than just mentioning it to someone. And it can be helpful to phrase it as a concern, and focus on the problems it could cause for the hospital if it was found, rather than pointing a finger at the safety and security department.

From the sound of the OP we have a pretty psycho-paranoid security dept and they are getting their way in the face of violating long standing federal/state mandated safety measures. If you report it internally you could be pretty easily branded as a troublemaker where as an anonymous tip to fire prevention can allow you to solve the problem and not have it hurt your employment. Getting security called to the mat for their actions sounds like it might be a good idea at this point. If management is enabling this then they most likely know its wrong and figure they wont get caught.

If you get nowhere with the Fire Marshall (highly unlikely as they live for this stuff), try calling the municipal or county Building Department (look for something called “Code Enforcement”). The number, type, and hardware associated with fire exits are generally governed by the local municipal (or county, if you’re in an unincorporated area) building code. Since you’re in a hospital there may also be requirements from the state public health agency, but they won’t respond to something like this as quickly as the locals will. Any municipality of any size has people who go around and look for this stuff all day.

I’d suggest that your security people start looking at the aforementioned alarm-delay crash bars, or a keycard system with fail safe (doors unlock when fire alarm is activated or power is lost, as opposed to fail-secure, where doors are locked no matter what happens)