Healthcare facilities have the difficult responsibility of creating a comfortable, inviting environment while maintaining your commitment to optimize safety by complying with the strict standards established by regulatory organizations such as NFPA, The Joint Commission, HIPPA and FDA. Safety efforts in these environments are further complicated because healthcare facilities are constantly occupied. In particular, this impacts the periodic testing that is required to ensure proper operation and maintenance of fire and life-safety systems are working properly.
While it’s important to focus on the safety and security of your facility all year, National Safety Month in June is a great time to reevaluate protocols. Consider the following checklist as an easy-to-follow guide that healthcare facilities can use in providing the best in around-the-clock protection for patients, staff and visitors.
Conduct a risk assessment
Consider leveraging trained professionals who conduct fire protection and life-safety risk assessments to help ensure that technologies and systems are fully operational and in compliance with codes, standards and regulations. The results of an assessment can help shape appropriate safety and emergency preparedness plans and recommendations.
Along with increasing safety, risk assessments can help identify ways to reduce costs, improve operational efficiency and enable greater success for the institution.
To maximize the safety and well-being of everyone involved, it’s critical to have a response plan in place for emergencies such as fire, severe weather or an active shooter scenario. Ensuring that all employees and on-site contractors are aware of potential threats and safety procedures helps prepare everyone for a potential emergency. Scheduling yearly trainings and drills helps keep safety top of mind for all, not just those who work in security or operations.
Install technologies that communicate emergency information
Having a clear line of communication in an emergency is crucial, and there are many technologies healthcare facilities can leverage to accomplish this objective. Mass notification systems (MNS) can offer a multitude of benefits and change the way information is communicated. An important aspect of an integrated MNS is a voice-enabled fire alarm system, used to notify people of an emergency and also capable at other times of providing routine information such as parking notifications or weather forecasts.
Voice fire alarm systems can instantly broadcast information throughout a healthcare facility and can be programmed to select exactly which speakers are used – and what message is played on them – during an emergency. A universal message, or individual messages tailored to specific areas, buildings, floors or rooms, can be delivered through the fire alarm system. This is especially beneficial in healthcare environments, where situations may occur that require different information to be shared for different departments or floors. For example, during a fire it may be safer for one floor to shelter in place, while another must evacuate.
Although many people associate a text alert with MNS today, a system is usually made up of multiple layers of technology and multiple modes of communication that can include audio and/or visual notification from a fire alarm system, email notifications, automated phone calls (similar to a reverse 911 call) and visual messaging boards.
Regular technology testing
Fire and life safety systems require regular testing, inspection and maintenance to ensure performance and meet code requirements. It’s advisable to partner with a licensed fire and life-safety company that has the expertise and resources to properly maintain your systems and meet applicable code and regulatory requirements. This third-party testing can give facility managers the assurance that their fire and life safety systems are in proper working order and set to function as designed in the event of an emergency.
In addition, life-safety providers that offer the most advanced technology can deliver even more value for healthcare institutions by enabling faster, less intrusive testing of notification systems. Notification appliance self-testing, performed through an intelligent fire alarm panel, can be completed quickly, cost effectively and with minimal disruption to patients and staff.
Coordinate with trusted resources
Healthcare staff can further understand threats in and around your facility by forging relationships with local security and law enforcement resources, such as police, fire, and government offices. Many institutions, especially those that are smaller in scale, can only accomplish so much with in-house resources. Yet at the same time, there are opportunities to increase safety by leaning on outside resources to build collaborative preparedness and response plans.
National Safety Month is a great reminder to reassess your facility safety and security plans and procedures. Checking off these five steps can help to maximize the safety of your healthcare facility and its occupants, no matter the time of year.
Aaron Saak, Vice President, Fire Protection, Building Solutions, North America, Johnson Controls.
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