- Standard Number:
OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov.
June 14, 2007
Mr. Gerald J. Baldauff
4 Douglas Drive
Gouldsboro, PA 18424
Dear Mr. Baldauff:
Thank you for your letter of January 6, 2007, to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on issues of employee safety regarding entry access and exits at a school in Pennsylvania, and whether they constitute fire code or safety violations. For clarification, your specific questions are paraphrased below, followed by OSHA's response. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation only of the requirements discussed and may not be applicable to any scenario not delineated within your original correspondence.
Question 1: Our teachers' group at a public school is concerned that bolt latches installed on exit doors as a security measure at the school could compromise safety in the event of a fire. The latches on the exit doors are engaged and secured during school. Does latching these exit doors constitute a violation of fire codes? If so, can OSHA or another agency address this matter?
Background — Public Sector Employees
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act), OSHA's authority extends to all private sector workers. The OSH Act does not cover employees of state and local governments, except where the state has adopted its own workplace safety and health program subject to approval and monitoring by Federal OSHA.
As you are probably aware, Pennsylvania is not among the more than 20 states that operate their own workplace safety and health programs. We note that Pennsylvania's state government web site [http://www.dli.state.pa.us] provides information for workplace safety compliance. On Pennsylvania's web site, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry provides an address to contact the Bureau of Occupational and Industry Safety (in Harrisburg, PA) for services in the Northeastern Pennsylvania region.
Background — Fire Codes and Means of Egress (Exit Routes)
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Life Safety Code (NFPA 101) is probably the most widely used fire protection code in the United States. NFPA 101 addresses topics such as reducing the spread of fire in buildings and providing means of egress from buildings when necessary. You should note that fire protection codes such as NFPA 101 are applied in many situations outside OSHA's jurisdiction. In general, NFPA 101 is applied by an "authority having jurisdiction," such as a local fire department that uses all the facts related to an occupancy to determine whether an egress-based hazard exists.
For situations in which OSHA has jurisdiction, the general industry standard for means of egress (exit routes) for buildings, codified in Subpart E of 29 CFR Part 1910, may be applicable. That OSHA standard is derived from the 1970 Edition of the NFPA 101. In addition, under §1910.35, employers who wish to comply with the NFPA 101 standard (2000 Edition) will also be in compliance with corresponding requirements of Subpart E of OSHA's standards.
Response. As explained above, limitations of the OSH Act mean that public school teachers in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are not covered by Federal OSHA. Furthermore, the Agency has no authority over students and the schools that they attend since they have no employer-employee relationship.
As also noted above, an "authority having jurisdiction," such as the State government or a local fire department responsible for issuing occupancy permits, would use all the facts to determine whether an egress-based hazard exists. With regard to whether latching these exit doors constitutes a violation of fire codes, the authority having jurisdiction would likely either use or consider NFPA 101 to assess and balance safety and security at the school. However, while some jurisdictions in the country use the NFPA codes, other jurisdictions adopt International Code Council codes for building construction and fire prevention purposes. We note that Pennsylvania's web site (mentioned above) provides information regarding Pennsylvania municipalities that have adopted the statewide building code, the Uniform Construction Code (UCC) and the State's pre-UCC requirements for commercial buildings.
Chapter 15, Existing Educational Occupancies, of NFPA 101-2006, paragraph 15.2.2, addressing means of egress components, permits doors that meet criteria for panic hardware and fire exit hardware under paragraph 126.96.36.199, as well as special locking arrangements that comply with paragraph 188.8.131.52. The situation you describe, and whether the door hardware is acceptable and approved under a fire code such as NFPA 101, would likely be addressed by an authority having jurisdiction such as a fire department.
Question 2: We have been told that as a security measure, school faculty who use a parking lot in the rear of the school building are no longer allowed to use an entrance adjacent to the lot. Faculty members who park in that lot in the back now have to go around the school along a dirt path and over a hill without a hand rail. Requests to the school district to install a sidewalk or allow the staff to enter the school using a door near the lot have been denied. Is this a violation of OSHA's standards and/or can the Agency help resolve our teachers group's concerns for their safety when using the parking lot?
Reply 2: As explained in the Background and Response to Question 1 above, Federal OSHA would not have jurisdiction in this matter.
Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. We hope this provides the clarification you were seeking. OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Office of General Industry Enforcement at (202) 693-1850.
Richard E. Fairfax
Directorate of Enforcement Programs