Assuring Life Safety is Maintained by Owner

Building Product Manufacturers, contractors, and design professionals are generally well informed about life-safety. But what can a manufacturer do to help a building owner or manager maintain the safety of a building and its occupants?

I confronted this question while consulting to a company launching a new type of ceiling panel. The ceiling panels allow fire sprinklers to be used in a non-conventional manner. Based on extensive testing, the ceiling and sprinkler combination and has approvals and listings from UL, FM, IAPMO-UES, ICC-ES, and CertMark.The approvals and listings are not valid, however, if the approved panels are replaced with non-approved products.

At the conclusion of a construction project, the contractor delivers to the owner boxes of as-built drawings, product data sheets, and operation and maintenance instructions. These are important reference documents, but are only helpful if someone can interpret the information. Further, the submittals may contain only a cut-sheet and not a copy of the product's approvals and listings. When the typical tenant or facility manager decides to redecorate and replace the ceiling panels, is he or she is likely to not look for the old submittals?

I advised my client that it has an obligation to the future users of the building. I compared its situation to an automobile manufacturer. Not only does the automaker put safety instructions in the owners manual, they put critical warnings on the dashboard or visor where drivers and passengers are likely to notice them. My client now provides customers with a durable placard and recommends that it be installed next to the fire control panel or another conspicuous location. The placard warns future generations that replacement panels must be in kind unless otherwise approved by a building safety authority.

As a nice side benefit, the placard also contains the manufacturer's name and contact information and may lead to orders for replacement panels.

The automaker's warning labels are required by law. Similarly, building codes require fire-rated doors to be labeled. My client was not compelled by code to offer the signage, but was motivated by a higher standard: protection of the public health, safety, and welfare.

Please do not wait for the codes to issue mandates. Review your products and ask yourself, "What can I do to help assure building owners can use my product safely throughout the life of the building?"

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