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Catching Fire: Code Compliance in the Cloud

Like fire lookouts perched high above a mountain forest, builders and contractors must be vigilant to prevent conflagrations before, during and after the completion of a construction project.

And throughout that process, they must avoid code violations outlined in a long litany of regulations established by organizations that range from local governments and the U.S. Fire Administration to the National Fire Protection Association and the International Code Council.

To prevent the loss of life and property, construction leaders can tap into a potent tool that helps them comply with myriad fire safety code requirements: a cloud-based computerized maintenance management system (CMMS).

Long recognized for automating preventive maintenance tasks to improve asset maintenance while reducing equipment downtime and labor costs and accessible virtually anywhere there is Internet access, CMMS is increasingly playing a role in easing the burden of complying with government regulationswhether by producing reports for a random OSHA inspection or pinpointing which staff technician has proper EPA certification to clean up a toxic spill.

When it comes to fire issues, a robust CMMS can incorporate code requirements into its storehouse of comprehensive safety information for a project or worksite. Users can easily track, review and record incidents as they monitor facility safety programs, including fire drills, evacuations, job safety analysis (JSA), historical safety meeting notes and material safety data sheets (MSDSs). Having a CMMS also makes it easier for project managers to review fire safety, which runs the gamut from analyzing specifications for sophisticated alarm systems in a high-rise building to monitoring trash pickup of flammable materials in a construction site dumpster.

Preventive Maintenance and Preventing Fires

At its core, modern CMMS promotes and enhances preventive maintenance (PM), which contrasts with the reactive approach of making repairs after equipment or building systems need attention. A PM strategy essentially heads off maintenance problems before they become big headaches. For instance, keeping bearings properly greased on production line machinery prevents it from malfunctioning, overheating and becoming a fire hazard.

With a CMMS, construction project managers can create a PM calendar to schedule routine tasks and assign work orders for specific jobs. And work orders can be linked to safety checks, including lockout/tagout, fire alarms, confined space procedures or other safety operations.

Common Fire Code Violations

In commercial buildings and developments, a number of basic fire code violations can be avoided by setting up a PM schedule in a CMMS. Following are just a few examples where assigning work orders for PM procedures can help prevent fires.

  • Automatic doors. The self-closing and latching devices for fire doors must be kept in working order because, when closed, these doors prevent fire and smoke from spreading through buildings. Users can set up PMs in the CMMS to check the devices, which could include reminders to building staff members and the public to avoid using wedges or doorstops to hold these doors open because that reduces their effectiveness in minimizing fire damage.
  • Vent pipes. Producing work orders to regularly inspect and repair cracked vent pipes for heating systems or incinerators can reduce fire hazards. Seals around the area where pipes enter chimneys must be checked regularly too, and that work can be scheduled on the PM calendar.
  • Fire extinguishers. As  with any valued tool, fire extinguishers require proper care and maintenance or they become useless. Use PMs to maintain fire extinguishers on a regular basis. Keeping a record of these inspections in CMMS will enable managers to show proof of compliance should officials ask for documentation.
  • Sprinkler systems. A variety of maintenance tasks are required to make sure sprinkler systems are up to codefrom examining sprinkler heads for damage to checking the inventory of wrenches and spare parts. The CMMS also can issue work orders to check that no storage items or other obstructions block sprinkler spray.
  • Drills. A CMMS offers a simple system for building schedules for staff members to practice emergency fire drills as well as emergency response techniques or evacuations, and it documents these efforts for regulatory purposes.

Here are examples of common violations in three loctions: City of Portland, City of Milwaukee and Cobb County.

Whether used for simple tasks, such as scheduling the replacement of light bulbs in fire exit signs or tracking the inventory of volatile chemicals at a construction site, a CMMS is a valuable ally for construction leaders who work hard to keep their projects from going up in smoke.

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