Fire extinguisher hanging on wall

Are You Guilty Of These Common Building Fire Code Violations?

Do you know what it takes to stay compliant with building fire codes? Not every business does, based on the number of building fire code violations.

Everyday business concerns can get in the way of fire safety. A busy employee may accidentally block a fire exit, unhook a chirping smoke alarm in need of a new battery, or forget to replace a damaged fire extinguisher. Unfortunately, such actions can lead to fire code violations and risk the health and safety of other employees.

Year after year, a few returning fire safety issues draw the attention of fire marshals and local authorities across the country. The good news is you can learn from others’ mistakes to keep your business and employees safe. Although your business may need to adhere to industry-specific fire safety regulations, there are certain actions all business owners should take to stay on top of the fire code and avoid unnecessary citations and fines.

What does a fire code address?

A fire code is established and enforced by the government for preventing fires and keeping people safe. While the building code includes requirements for fire suppression, fire detection, and evacuation, the fire code ensures this built-in level of protection is not compromised. It addresses aspects such as egress drills, inspection, testing and maintenance of fire suppression and detection equipment.

Most states have adopted all or portions of the International Fire Code (IFC) by the International Code Council or NFPA 1: Fire Code by the National Fire Protection Association (The NFPA currently publishes more than 300 codes and standards). Since the codes continuously evolve and governments keep adopting different editions as laws, it can be challenging for businesses to know what rules apply in their jurisdiction.

But many regulations are also straightforward and easily addressed:

Let’s take a look at seven common building fire code violations and how to avoid them

  1. Faulty smoke alarms or detectors

    You hardly need a reminder of the persistent chirping a smoke alarm will emit when its battery runs low, or something else is amiss. But, all too often, business owners address the issue by unhooking the wiring and taking it down. Although they may intend to return to the detector with a fix, few do, at least based on the number of violations that fire inspectors report.

    The result can be devastating as smoke alarms are the best way to detect fires before they have a chance to gather force. This is also why a non-working or missing smoke alarm or detector is considered a fire code violation.

    A better way: Address the issue immediately. To ensure all smoke alarms are in sync, replace all batteries at the same time each year. Also, keep in mind smoke alarms should be replaced—whether they work or not—every 10 years. A trusted fire alarm expert can ensure your smoke alarms or detectors will work to protect your home or business.

  2. Improper maintenance

    Your business can hardly meet the building and fire code requirements without a properly installed fire alarm and other fire protection systems. But the initial installation is only the beginning. If you forget to annually test the equipment with the help of a qualified technician and fail to provide a written log of the inspections, you can run into trouble with the authorities.

    A better way: Partner with trusted fire safety experts that know exactly what is required to keep your systems up to code and meet stringent insurance requirements. This job is too important to leave to chance.

  3. Blocked exits

    Leaving an unexpected delivery in front of a fire door may seem like an innocent mistake. You will remove it at the end of the day, right? But a blocked fire door poses a life-threatening risk even if the obstacle only remains for a few hours. If a fire breaks out, all exits, hallways, pathways, and stairs must be free of debris.

    A better way: Never bend the rule on leaving fire exits unblocked. No reason is good enough to drop off store merchandise in hallways or other areas you need as fire escape routes. Plus, the “one-time-only” excuse can turn into a bad habit.

    Fire doors must also be:

    • easy to open quickly without the use of additional tools
    • self-closing to prevent them from being accidentally left open
    • closed at all times


  4. Improper use of extension cords

    When you need power but find no outlet within reach, you may turn to an extension cord for a quick fix. You’re not alone. The improper use of extension cords is one of the most severe—and common—fire code violations. Designed for temporary use only, extension cords often turn into permanent solutions as day-to-day business concerns sideline their replacement. That can make them a fire hazard. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission warns extension cords can overheat when a connecting unit consumes more watts than the cord can handle.

    A better way: Hire a licensed electrician to add more outlets rather than relying on extension cords as your long-term solution.

  5. Missing fire extinguishers

    OSHA inspectors, and your local fire marshal, enforce the Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers, NFPA 10, to ensure this essential fire-fighting tool works as intended to provide the first line of defense against small fires. The quick application of a fire extinguisher can help you prevent some of the most common workplace fires from spiraling out of control. But missing, damaged, or partially used fire extinguisher is still a common fire code violation, especially among larger businesses.

    A better way: Take the time to make sure you have fully charged, working fire extinguishers with the correct classification for each area of your building. All fire extinguishers also need to be inspected and serviced annually.

  6. Wrong items in fire pump, riser, and electrical rooms

    If storage is in short supply, don’ follow the examples of businesses that place miscellaneous items in fire pump and riser rooms. This is another common fire code violation that inspectors come across. During an emergency, those extra items will slow down fire department personnel, forcing them to remove items that don’t belong to reach the necessary equipment.

    A better way: Preserve the integrity of fire pump and riser rooms by keeping other items out.

  7. Inadequate fire safety signage

    Does your business have unobstructed, illuminated exit signs and emergency lights that stay on for 90 minutes during power outages? Then, you are doing better than other owners of commercial buildings that get cited for violating the fire code for appropriate signage. Flickering exit lights or blocked exit signs are common violations that you should immediately fix as they can slow down evacuations and cause confusion during a fire.

    A better way: Monthly checks of your exit signs and lighting do not only make sense—the code also requires it. Establish routine maintenance of your fire safety signage, including changing batteries on the same day every year.

The regulations that govern business fire safety may seem complex, but, as this post shows, there are easy ways to stay on top of the fire code so you can keep people safe and pass fire safety inspections.

Do you need a professional fire security company with a long history of installing high-quality, code-compliant technology?

Contact Bay Alarm today for a free consultation.

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