What is Life Safety? NFPA 101 and other essential codes.

What is Life Safety?

It seems quite self-explanatory, but let’s lay it out simply. Life Safety is a widely used standard to minimize risk to human life from hazards related to fire in buildings.

The official code is the National Fire Protection Agency’s NFPA 101.

“The code addresses those construction, protection, and occupancy features necessary to minimize danger to life from the effects of fire, including smoke, heat, and toxic gases created during a fire.”

NFPA 101 Section 1.1.2

Life safety is an ESSENTIAL part of a facility manager’s role day.

Every single building – residential or commercial – must follow the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code. There are variances based on the use of the building and types of chemicals or flammable products stored.

If you have time, you’re welcome to read the 569 pages of the NFPA 101(c) Life Safety Code. Or we can summarize some high points here.

How to determine if you meet the standards of the NFPA 101 – Life Safety Code:

  1. Check with your local AHJ (authority having jurisdiction) to understand the local requirements. The standards can be different from one jurisdiction to the next.
  2. Identify your category. The code has variations of standards based on type of occupancy. Each business or use type has a different need to ensure life safety.
  3. Is your building new or existing? The codes are a bit different for new vs existing buildings.
  4. The volume of occupancy has an impact on the code in relation to egress requirements and space planning.
  5. Identify the types of hazards on site and how long they’re stored for. A small retail store has much different requirements than an auto repair center or manufacturing facility with flammable or explosive chemicals on site.

Here’s a great video roadmap of NFPA 101: Life Safety Standards from DFD Architects: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9hHgchUgBA

Key sections of NFPA 101


NFPA 101 states that exit access shall include only designated stairs, aisles, corridors, ramps, escalators, and passageways leading to an exit. For the purposes of this requirement, exit discharge shall include only designated stairs, aisles, corridors, ramps, escalators, walkways, and exit passageways leading to a public way. (The exit access, exit discharge, and exit make up the “means of egress,” both in the IBC and the NFPA code. Similar definitions for IBC means of egress are found in IBC Ch. 2-202)


NFPA 101 (2) and IBC Ch. 10-1008.2.1, the floors and other walking surfaces within an exit and within the portions of the exit access and exit discharge shall be illuminated to minimum illuminance values of at least 1 fc (10.8 lux per NFPA, 11 lux per IBC), measured at the floor. (Note that this is a minimum footcandle level that’s required during normal operation—not necessarily in an emergency situation—as described in NFPA 101’s Section 7.9 and IBC’s Ch. 10- 1008.3.5This minimum illuminance level should become part of the lighting design criteria for all floors and walking surfaces in areas designated as elements in the means of egress.) 

Exit Signage:

NFPA-101 7.10 cover the detailed requirements for exit signs including visibility, size, and power-source requirements for internally and externally illuminated signs in addition to locations where exit signage is required. 

A few other life safety tips for healthcare facility managers:

The Joint Commission lays out it’s own Life Safety Standards Handbook based primarily on NFPA 101. You can find it here: https://www.jcrinc.com/-/media/deprecated-unorganized/imported-assets/jcr/default-folders/items/eblsg13samplepdf.pdf?db=web&hash=383DC6A133AF43101A8AAF25E4FF595D

NFPA 99 establishes criteria for levels of health care services or systems based on risk to patients, staff or visitors in health care facilities to minimize the hazards of fire, explosion and electricity.

If you need help getting a plan together or managing your life safety program, give us a call!

We’ve successfully helped a large health care facility and many others navigate their Joint Commission inspections and meet or exceed requirements for accreditation.

Life Safety is part of the Environment of Care standards. These are set forth by the Joint Commission and applies to all health care settings. We’re happy to consult with your organization and help put together an Environment of Care management plan. The facility team is or should play a large role in this discussion, especially for the plan to successful and practical.


Full NFPA 101 Life Safety Code: https://www.nfpa.org/codes-and-standards/all-codes-and-standards/list-of-codes-and-standards/detail?code=101

From FacilitiesNet: How to maintain life safety compliance in healthcare facilities.

Mariel Nowack

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