The Importance of Inspection, Testing and Maintenance in Prolonging Building Health

Health and wellbeing aren't only important for the people inside the building.
By Shawn Mahoney
October 20, 2023

When you picture an unhealthy building, you likely conjure up images of dilapidated buildings with broken windows and overgrown lawns. But the health of a building is often something not so easily spotted by the naked eye, and there are many structures that look pristine but may have fallen behind on critical building health and safety aspects. 

An unhealthy building is in a state in which necessary fire-protection and life-safety systems have not been properly maintained—the facilities team might not even know the last time that they were serviced. This lack of documented, regular maintenance puts the building at risk of being in a situation where those fire and life-safety systems won’t operate as they were designed to, therefore compromising the building’s integrity and occupants’ safety in the event of a fire.

What, then, constitutes a healthy building? A healthy building ensures that occupants are safe the entire time they’re utilizing that building. This means fire and life-safety systems must undergo thorough and frequent inspection, testing, maintenance protocols to make sure they’re operating properly. And to build a strong, sustainable foundation for maintaining healthy buildings, it’s important to invest in initiatives that drive efficiency and accuracy in those ITM protocols through digital transformation and continuous training.

Key Aspects of a Healthy Building

There are several primary fire and life safety systems and components requiring ITM that facility managers need to have on their radar, including the sprinkler system, fire alarm system, means of egress and passive fire protection like firewalls, fire barriers and smoke partitions. Below isa list of relevant codes and standards to have on hand in inspecting, testing and maintaining these many systems:

  • NFPA 25, Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems states the required frequency for ITM for water-based systems, such as the sprinkler system, the standpipe system, and the fire pump within a building.
  • NFPA 72®,National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code® outlines the required ITM frequencies for all components of the fire alarm system within a building.
  • NFPA 80,Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives defines how to inspect and test fire doors as well as fire dampers and combination fire smoke dampers.
  • NFPA 101®, The Life Safety Code® outlines the requirements for means of egress as well as maintaining those means of egress to be clear and unobstructed for the occupants’ use.
  • NFPA 105, Standard for Smoke Door Assemblies and Other Opening Protectives states the requirements for inspecting and testing smoke dampers and smoke doors.

Additionally, many fire protection and life safety systems—such as a fire alarm system, emergency lighting, smoke control systems, HVAC systems and even elevators—rely on having a reliable source of power to be able to operate in any condition. Because of this, it's important to properly maintain electrical systems as well as standby and emergency power systems. NFPA 110, Standard for Emergency and Standby Power Systems and NFPA 111,Standard on Stored Electrical Energy Emergency and Standby Power Systems both provide requirements for how standby and emergency power systems must be maintained and tested to ensure they're going to work when needed.

The Importance of Digital Tools

Access to digital codes and standards is critical in helping facility managers understand inspection and testing frequencies required for their many systems as well as knowing what maintenance needs to be performed on those systems. Digitized codes and standards enable facility managers to easily access the critical content listed above in an interactive, searchable and portable manner. These online formats allow facility managers and other relevant stakeholders to make future-proofed, collaborative notes directly within the code. This helps them keep track of specific happenings in their facility as communicated to them by their contractors and inspectors, noting details or variances pertaining to ITM requirements alongside the relevant section of code for easy reference later. If an employee leaves or retires, this information can be easily handed down to their successor. 

While facility managers may not be the resident expert on every fire-protection and life-safety system, they’re expected to have knowledge on hand so they can properly maintain a healthy building. With digital tools, facility managers can access code information, notes, supplemental resources and more without having to consult the experts on the topic at hand. This allows for greater learning, quicker outcomes and more informed decision-making overall when conducting ITM. 

Continuous Training Can Help Keep Buildings Healthy

In many ways, facility managers are expected to be the master of all trades when supporting the health of a building. Because there are so many different types of systems that they must understand how to operate and maintain, it is extremely important facility managers and their teams conduct continuous, well-rounded training.

Facility managers should participate in training geared specifically towards inspecting, testing and maintaining these systems. This will help them be able to properly identify the best-qualified person to come in and perform needed work within the facility.

When it comes to training, facility managers can again turn to digital resources. Online training courses allow employees to explore a vast hub of knowledge and certifications no matter where they are. These formats also allow facility managers to fit training into their schedules where it works, rather than having to spend hours or even days away from their workspaces to complete scheduled in-person trainings. By completing training online, facility managers can uplevel their ITM knowledge without sacrificing other important daily tasks.

Maintaining a healthy building is no small task—but it is an important one. With the help of digital tools and online training, facility managers and their teams can ensure they have easy access to code content and continuous education so they can master the many fire and life safety systems that go into a healthy building.

by Shawn Mahoney
Shawn Mahoney is a senior engineer, technical services, at NFPA.

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