Should I Hold Fire Doors Open to Slow the Spread of COVID-19?

Are you tempted to hold doors open in your hospital to reduce touch points on these surfaces and decrease the spread of the COVID-19 virus? That might seem like a logical solution. Let’s explore the impact of taking such an action.

What if the door you block open is a fire-rated door that would compartmentalize the spread of a fire?

What the NFPA Standards Say

Doors, shutters, and windows are of no value unless they are properly maintained and closed or able to close at the time of fire.

— Annex section from the National Fire Protection Association Standard 80 2013: Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives

The NFPA standard goes on to state that it is the building owner’s responsibility to ensure these protectives (fire-rated doors) are code compliant. Sacrificing the safeguards that these doors provide serves only to open the facility to increased risk and liability if a fire were to occur.

This article by Kristin Bigda, Principal Fire Protection Engineer from NFPA, clarifies how this practice is a violation:

NFPA codes and standards such as NFPA 1, Fire Code, NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, and NFPA 80, Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives, govern the installation, inspection, testing and maintenance of fire doors. Fire doors and other opening protectives such as shutters and windows must be operable at all times. Operability of these systems includes opening, closing and latching. Fire doors must be kept closed and latched or arranged to be automatic closing during the time of a fire. In addition, blocking or wedging of doors in the open position is prohibited, as it violates the required operation and closing feature of the door.

Are There Other Risks By Blocking Doors Open?

Let’s say a fire doesn’t start with the fire-rated doors wedged open. What else occurs when I block open any door, fire-rated or not?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 1.7 million infections and 99,000 associated deaths occur each year from hospital-acquired infections (HAI). Some hospital-acquired infections (and some of the associated deaths) occur from viruses and bacteria that are airborne. By blocking the doors open to reduce touching, you inadvertently allow ‘bad air’ to move from one part of your hospital to another.

What is the Preferred Recommendation?

You can keep the spread of the COVID-19 virus in-check AND keep your life-saving fire doors operable at the same time. You can do both! Your patients and employees deserve it.

Kristin Bigda also points out:

While it may seem more “convenient” or in this case, a safer option from the perspective of spreading germs, interfering with fire door operation can have grave consequences during a fire. In addition, holding fire doors open runs a risk of this becoming an accepted practice in the building for any number of situations. Building residents and staff should be taught code-compliant solutions and should not get into a habit of overriding fire safe practices.

The article recommends referring to the CDC guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting your facility amid COVID-19.

What About Converting Standard Patient Rooms to Negative Pressure Rooms?

The American Society for Health Care Engineering (ASHE) published a COVID-19 resource for ASHE members. DH Pace Compliance Services can help you convert standard patient rooms to negative pressure rooms per ASHE’s recommendations. See our post about COVID-19 Negative Pressure in Healthcare Facilities.

Any Questions?

Do you have any questions about your specific scenario? We’re here for you! Contact us with your questions and we’ll be in touch with you.

Read Kristin Bigda’s full article here: Don’t Compromise Fire Safety While Responding to Coronavirus: Keep Fire Doors Operable