ArticleThis article provides an introduction into the basics of exterior property maintenance, the implications on premises safety, and some information on relevant standards to get your investigation started.
Premises Safety Through Exterior Property Maintenance
A properly designed and effectively run maintenance program can reduce the likelihood of premises injuries, including slip, trip, and fall incidents. Maintenance programs involving regularly scheduled inspection of stairs, walkways, and other exterior elements provide early notice of developing conditions that may negatively affect the safety of building occupants and passers-by.
Why Exterior Maintenance?
A maintenance program is necessary for numerous reasons, chief amongst them to ensure the safety of the building’s occupants and passer-by. Many failures that cause incidents occur gradually over time and would be identified before the ultimate failure during the course of proper maintenance of a property. There are several approaches a building owner or manager can take, including:
Preventative maintenance - based on scheduled maintenance of elements on a regular basis. This program usually runs on a set schedule. By planning the program properly, elements can remain safely in use without failure. This type of maintenance is low-frequency, seasonal and in-depth.
Unplanned maintenance - is the everyday work that is done more frequently to identify and remediate hazards. This type of maintenance is custodial in nature and identifies changing conditions. It breaks down into two basic categories:
- Reactive - unplanned maintenance of a nuisance nature, requiring low levels of skill for correction. These problems are usually identified and reported by facilities users.
- Emergency - unscheduled work that requires immediate action to remove problems to protect life and property.
Implications on Premises Safety
A comprehensive preventative maintenance plan can protect the property owner and manager from claims due to slips, trips and falls. It is important that premises safety inspections involve staff as well as management, as staff will often be aware of the day-to-day hazards that may be present. Exterior elements, such as sidewalks, ramps, stairs, guardrails, handrails, parking lots, fences and gates must be regularly assessed in an organized and systematic way.
Relevant Codes and Standards
Many cases relate to falls sustained on uneven surfaces outside of buildings. The 2012 International Property Maintenance Code applies to all existing premises and constitutes minimum standards for exterior maintenance. It outlines the responsibility of owners, operators and occupants for the safe continued occupancy of existing premises. This code requires:
“All sidewalks, walkways, stairs, driveways, parking spaces and similar areas shall be kept in a proper state of repair, and maintained free from hazardous conditions.”
The code also addresses maintenance of decks, porches, balconies, handrails, guardrails, gates and ramps.
Means Facility Maintenance Standards recommends inspection frequencies which are suited to identify these issues in a variety of materials. For instance, in a preventative maintenance program, the paving should be inspected semi-annually for deterioration such as frost heave, cracking, settlement and tree root growth. To identify reactive maintenance needs, these areas should also be walked frequently to identify deterioration from water, impact or other more immediate means. Stairs, ramps, guardrails, handrails and other aspects of the egress system should be inspected monthly to ensure safe exiting and movement through the property.
Whether you represent a plaintiff or a defendant in a premises liability claim, it is important to consider the relevant maintenance implications. The Architects at Robson Forensic can help you understand the codes and standards relevant to your case and the implications on your legal strategy.
Melanie Short, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP
Architect + Premises Safety Expert
Melanie is a licensed architect with over 15 years of experience designing and evaluating the safety of institutional, residential and commercial buildings. She is a registered architect in Colorado, Arizona and Utah. Melanie is the right expert to assist in claims involving premises safety, building performance, code compliance, construction documents, historic preservation and professional liability.