Top 5 Reasons Commercial Buildings Fail Fire Safety Inspections & What to Do About It

Modern building codes can be traced back to around 1897 when the first published codes dealing with electrical systems in homes and buildings were introduced. Since then, building codes have only gotten more intensive, requiring architects and builders to have a thorough understanding of what’s necessary for every type of structure they build. 

Most commercial buildings need to undergo yearly fire inspections to make sure that the building is conforming to local, state and federal fire codes. Some of these codes and the reasons for failed inspections can be traced to the building owner, while others are on the builder who should have ensured that they’re included right from the beginning. 

In the event of the former, there is little that architects or builders can do. In the event of the latter, however, it is on you to make sure that the building is up to code and able to pass those inspections each year. 

Let’s look at five reasons commercial buildings fail fire safety inspections, and how you can avoid them in your next project.

1. Lack of Emergency Signals

Emergency signals such as illuminated exit signs are crucial to every building’s layout and design. Properly working and placed signs are important to assist people in locating the exits in the event of a fire. Too many workplaces and commercial buildings either have inadequate emergency signals or emergency signals that malfunction easily. These include signals that burn out and are then difficult to access and repair or replace.

Making sure that you include more than the minimum of emergency signals and signage in your design and ensuring that the materials chosen are easy to see, use and repair, if necessary, can go a long way toward ensuring that the building continuously meets code. 

Installing only the minimum number of signs is also bad for the building owners, as codes are continuously updated to include more fire protection systems, which could render a layout obsolete very quickly, and cause a building owner to fail inspection a few years down the road.

2. Lack of Suppression Systems

Fire suppression systems are required in all buildings in order to meet and pass fire and building codes. In most instances, a sprinkler system is the bare minimum that’s required in order for a building to meet code, but often, this isn’t enough. Fire suppression systems are often multi-layered and contain a variety of different components that can help prevent smoke and fire from traveling throughout a building.

For example, in some high-ceilinged areas, a smoke baffle needs to be part of a fire suppression system. In other instances, making sure that the walls, doors and other materials used throughout the building need to be made of non-combustible materials. 

It’s important to plan these things into the building design right from the beginning. Doing so creates a more fluid design, and ensures that the building is meeting all fire and safety codes at the same time. 

Examples of how you can include these systems throughout the building include not only sprinkler systems, but also smoke curtains, which can deploy in the event of a fire to help contain and prevent the movement of smoke and flame through the area, ensuring the code is met while not detracting from the building’s design.

3. Heavy and Difficult to Operate Doors

Doorways are a tricky thing in commercial buildings, particularly when attempting to meet fire and safety codes. The doors need to be able to shut tight and help block smoke and flames from entering one area from another. 

This is particularly important in areas where people may be required to gather in place during an emergency. But a door that is too heavy or difficult to open can be the reason that a building fails its fire inspection, because it may mean that people are unable to evacuate an area. 

Choosing lightweight doors that also meet fire suppression codes, making sure that the door operation is easy, or combining doorways with smoke and fire curtains are all ways that you can ensure that you meet fire and safety codes on both sides of the equation. 

4. Electrical Outlets and Breakers

Another of the most common reasons that buildings will fail their fire inspections comes down to the electrical work. This is often a twofold problem. 

The first issue is that all electrical outlets, breakers and circuit boards must be properly covered and protected. This may include using proper safety covers or making sure that a certain number of outlets are grounded or have GFCI protection. Choosing the right materials and ensuring that they’re properly installed and designed into the layout of the building can help avoid this issue.

The second issue is the lack of usable outlets in some areas. As commercial spaces become more fluid, with office designs becoming multi-purpose and layouts becoming more open, too many people are turning to extension cords as a permanent solution to providing electricity. 

For example, if an open floor plan starts allowing businesses to utilize the space in different configurations, then there must be additional ways of supplying power to things like electronics, computers and communication equipment. If there aren’t enough outlets, most businesses will simply begin using additional power cords to meet their needs. This can cause the building to fail its annual inspection.

There are many ways that you can include additional outlets and power sources in a design, even in open layouts. Utilizing columns, floor-based outlets and soffits, you can make sure that the building has the right amount of power where it’s needed now and where it might be needed in the future, helping to avoid this issue from day one onward.

5. The Building Is Improperly Marked or Identified

The exterior of a building is often given a lot of thought and planning to ensure that it looks its best. However, the building number is often neglected, left off the design entirely or so small or difficult to see that it’s not readable from the street. Unfortunately, in order to pass fire inspections and safety codes, the building’s number must be prominently displayed and easy to read from the street.

By incorporating this into the design of the building right from the beginning, rather than treating it as an afterthought, this situation can easily be avoided. The building will maintain its curb appeal, while meeting building codes and passing subsequent fire inspections at the same time.

Ensure Your Buildings Pass Inspection Every Time

While things like obstructing exits or improperly storing chemicals are also common reasons a building will fail inspection, these are easily fixed by the building owner at any time. Make sure that you fulfill your role in ensuring building safety by incorporating the right type of materials, equipment and layout into every building you design, to ensure that a major fire disaster is unlikely to occur.

For more information on how smoke and fire curtains can help your building stay up to code, click here to talk to one of our fire protection experts.