Construction 101: What you need to know

Hospital Safety Insider, July 28, 2016

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You might think you have the most well put-together life safety compliance program, but the minute your facility decides to make changes to the physical environment of the building, that can change.

A construction project disrupts the day-to-day life in a hospital and can present many security breaches, as well as fire and life safety dangers that pop up unexpectedly every day, even if you thought you had everything covered.

Our life safety experts helped us come up with a list of things you MUST do before starting a construction project to help mitigate the dangers.

Do a thorough risk assessment. As you would with any new plan or project, you should always take a good look at the potential risks you are introducing to the building, and plan to mitigate them. Where in the facility is the project? Will it upset asbestos that will need to be removed? Will the project plan involve shutting down the fire alarm system? Then you'll need a fire watch. Where will construction crews enter and exit? Who will ensure security at those points? Will hazardous materials be introduced into the construction area? If so, you'll need proper permits and waste disposal efforts.

Hire an expert.
A life safety consultant could perform a peer review of all the construction documentation you will need to remain in compliance, as it's always a good idea to have someone go over your construction diagrams and documents before the project starts, because in many cases, it's easier to change plans than it is to go back and fix problems later.

How will your emergency plan affect construction plans? Regulatory agencies such as The Joint Commission and CMS are cracking down on making sure hospitals can maintain operations during a crisis. Administrators will be under more pressure to either renovate their current facility or look toward new construction. If you are building a new facility or wing to the hospital, you should consider future compliance.

Where is your emergency infrastructure located?
If your emergency generators and fuel supplies are located in the basement where a flood could affect its operations, perhaps now is the time to design backup generators and other critical infrastructure in higher floors or even in the roof. By doing this, you can be among some hospitals that are positioning themselves to be compliant with anticipated CMS emergency management rule changes that will require hospitals to prove they can stay operational in a crisis.

Make inspections a daily occurrence.
Most safety professionals advise that safety inspections and rounds take place at least once per week. For the most part, it's easy to get to know your building enough so that you know what's out of place. But a construction project can introduce so many factors (e.g., dust, unknown visitors, hazardous materials, cut wires, propped doors, etc.) that it becomes imperative to make inspections happen every day to help get extra eyes on the job and catch any potential safety hazards.

Consider all logistics.
Will utilities need to be moved, will the area remain occupied, and will traffic have to be rerouted? Will your ambulance bays be able to remain open, and your emergency room stay operational? Any construction project will change the way your facility operates on a normal basis, and you will need to make sure that contingencies are in place to deal with it.

Make sure the specifications are appropriate for your situation.
If you have standardized materials from a particular manufacturer, or need materials approved by your insurance, make sure your contractors understand that.

Include your safety requirements in the bid documents. Contractors are willing to comply, but you have to let them know what is expected. Waiting until the contractors walk into the building for the first day of work is not the time to discuss how workers will reduce dust and vibrations, how they will enter the building, and where materials will be stored during the job.

Consider what happens after construction is finished
. It's important to realize that things will change once the project is done. Take training, for instance. Were new people hired, new diagnostic equipment bought, or did construction cause a complete change in the layout of the wing of the building? You may need to conduct worker training on a new fire alarm system, or emergency response plans based on the new floor plan. New construction may make old training obsolete.

This is an excerpt from the monthly healthcare safety resource Healthcare Life Safety Compliance. Subscribers can read the rest of the article here. Non-subscribers can find out more about the journal, its benefits, and how to subscribe by clicking here.


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