AHJ’s: Who has the final say?
When a client needs to install new life safety systems or modify their existing systems, it is important to understand who, besides the client, has input on the system requirements. Everyone can avoid challenges late in their project by addressing all concerned parties early. In contracting language, the term “AHJ” or “Authority Having Jurisdiction” is used. In most cases, AHJ refers to a local municipality such as a city or county government or a local fire department or district that has the final say on the fire protection requirements of a project. However, insurance companies, third-party engineering consultants, and state and federal agencies can often impose additional demands on a building’s life safety systems.
Local city and fire districts often publish their requirements so that designers know during the design phase what will be required on the project. Designers then submit plans and calculations to the local authorities to review and approve prior to starting physical work on the project. Local AHJ’s then visit onsite throughout the project to perform inspections to ensure that the installation is in line with the submitted and approved plans.
Engineering firms, or consultants, are often brought on to projects before contractors, and the requirements of the engineering consultants are conveyed through plans and specifications that each contractor can review before providing pricing to complete the project. Similar to local AHJ’s, the fire protection contractor incorporates the engineer’s requirements into the design and then submits plans and calculations to the engineer for their review and approval before starting physical work on the project. Engineering consultants then visit the project during construction to review the installation. If something does not match with what was planned, the engineer issues a “punch list” of items that need to be corrected or completed in order to successfully finish the project.
Insurance companies such as Factory Mutual are very similar to local AHJs in the fact that their requirements are well known, and they perform reviews before starting each project. Factory Mutual also performs onsite reviews during installation.
The last group of AHJ’s that will be addressed in this article are less involved but equally important as the others mentioned previously. Agencies such as the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), and The Joint Commission can become involved in projects that include healthcare settings or dependent care facilities. Both DHSS and IDPH follow slightly different standards than most local AHJs. When multiple codes and standards are required to be followed on a project, the strictest code or standard shall be followed. DHSS and IDPH both review fire protection plans but typically take significantly longer to provide feedback than local AHJs. If adequate time is not given for a response before starting work, there is a risk that changes will need to be made to systems that have already been installed. Customers need to plan for additional review time when state agencies are involved in the project. The Joint Commission (TJC) is an independent group that accredits and certifies health care organizations. TJC surveys finished and operational facilities to decide on certifications or accreditation. When planning a new healthcare facility, it is important to understand if TJC is involved before design. TJC requirements are enforced after projects are complete and could cause significant challenges if any part of the systems need to be modified based on a TJC survey.
The above list of AHJ’s is not an all-inclusive list. The groups are just a sample of who should be contacted prior to starting design on any project. Knowing everyone’s requirements early on is critical to completing a successful project and minimizing unforeseen costs and schedule delays.
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