During the recent months many business owners have had to rethink their business operations and safety protocols – including pulling together Preparedness Plans or purchasing PPE for staff and clients for essential and in-person businesses. Another necessary step is re-analyzing safe occupant loads during COVID-19. Jurisdictions are enforcing limited occupant loads to keep businesses operational while maintaining public health and safety standards. The news of reopening is much anticipated but figuring out new occupant loads can be challenging.
Limited occupant load
The occupant load is the total number of people allowed in a building at a single time. This number is critical in determining adequate exiting from a building; and currently, changes are being implemented to maintain public safety. As an example, hair salons are being limited to a maximum 25% of their original capacity while retail stores and business are allowed up to 50%.
If the occupant load of the building is known, this math is very straightforward. If the occupant load is unknown, an occupant load analysis should be performed to determine the appropriate number of employees and/or customers allowed at any given time.
It can be confusing but the good news is we are here to help! Below is a list of information and resources to help determine your new occupant load. You can also give us a call and we will tackle it for you – taking one less detail for operating your business off your plate!
What you need to know
There are several key pieces of information needed to determine the occupant load. Every building is unique and so is every occupant load analysis. Here are the 5 key questions to re-analyze safe occupant loads during COVID-19:
Question 1: Which editions of the International Building and Fire Codes (IBC/IFC) apply to my building?
As an example, Minnesota recently underwent a new code cycle and has now adopted and amended the 2018 IBC and IFC, which includes changes to the occupant load factors for business occupancies. This change only applies to new businesses starting after March 31, 2018. Existing businesses (prior to that date) would still follow the 2012 IBC/IFC.
The International Code Council has great online resources with information broken down by State or code edition.
Question 2: What is the use of my building and its individual spaces?
Most buildings are not a one size fits all and have multiple uses. As an example, an office building may have areas for desks or cubicles, large meeting and break rooms, and include areas for storage or deliveries. In this example, each area of the building requires a different factor to determine the appropriate occupant load of each space. The IBC includes an occupant load factor table in Chapter 10 – which breaks out the various factors by use.
Question 3: What is the square footage of my building and/or various spaces within the building?
If you have a set of plans at-the-ready this part is a breeze. If not, time to get out a tape measure to start noting sizes of rooms/areas within the building! If this sounds daunting our group of consultants can perform a site survey for you to accurately pull the necessary information together.
Question 4: What is the difference in applying a factor Gross vs. Net?
Once you’ve found the proper uses in Chapter 10 of the building code AND you have calculated the square footage of the various use areas, you may have noticed some factors include a gross indication and others net.
Gross factors include the areas within the exterior/demising walls and include all the spaces encompassed by those walls.
Net factors also include areas within the exterior/demising walls but can exclude normally unoccupied areas – such as bathrooms, fixed counters/tables, hallways, stairways, etc.
Question 5: What should I do if I’m unsure my occupant load analysis is correct?
Give us a call! We will be happy to work with you to perform your building specific analysis or to double check your work. Re-analyzing safe occupant loads for your business during COVID-19 should be the least of your worries. Contact us today.
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