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The Life-Safety Hypocrisy

Everyday he worked, our ex-building inspector, John Gulland climbed the stairs of the Duluth City Hall to his Building Codes Administration job.  When he did, he ignored the same "life-safety" issues he enforced on our project.  The stair railings he took into his office every day were by his own admissions, too low, and had no guardrails.  These are "life-safety" items pursuant to the building codes, argued Mr. Gulland, required by new homes or renovation projects.  True "life-safety" items are ignored in existing structures while required of those seeking building permits.  Is there some "magical" safety net for "grand fathered" buildings, while remaining true life-safety issues for new or renovation projects?  Is there some "mystical" reason that a life-safety issue is not the same life-safety issue under similar circumstances?


When Mr. Gulland inspected our building, he did not use either the guardrail or railing when walking up and down the stairs.  Gulland and the Plan Reviewer did not appreciate my asking them to use the handrail as they climbed the stairs.  I was just repeating his oft made statement, "it's a life safety issue."  Was he risking his life and our liability by acting so recklessly?  I got a sneer, but no one used the handrail.


Handrails have to run continuously without breaks from beginning to end.  Each end had to run into the wall.  If it did not end in the wall, the user would be too confused to know where to go next.  Surely, a person could not find their way out without the mastermind of the building inspector and the building code.  I wonder what people would do when they followed the handrail into the wall?  Did they stop there and wait for further instruction?  Nope, thankfully, the lighted exit signs showed the way out, but would they see it now that they faced the wall?  They would perish for sure before they figured that out.  This too, Gulland maintained, was a life-safety issue.


Doors likewise must open outward with panic door handles.  Why?  When there is a panic of people in a fire they may run into each other and all perish because they cannot turn a regular handle.  With our apartment complex, we might have as many as six or eight people wanting to get out a single door and they would not know what to do.  Thankfully, all encompassing building codes covered every possibility down to the screw.  Heck, it almost covered every conceivable item that might come up in the future as well.  The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry must be proud of the tremendous regulations and oversight they have contributed to the demise of the building industry.


Then there are the door a fire it is assumed that everyone will panic and forget to close the doors on the way out allowing the fire to spread.  The theme throughout these requirements is that people are "too stupid" to keep their head in emergencies.  These "wise" building inspectors must compensate for the dozens of fire drills and emergency procedures we have programmed into our heads.


Building codes, much like most government regulations, have spun out of control and overly oppressing to anyone wanting to do work requiring a building permit.  If there is a single incident, someone wants to enact another building code requirement to cover it.  If the same rules applied to driving, all of us would be driving about five mph, with surround air bags, there would be guardrails everywhere, our cars would have to have government checks every 5,000 miles, and we would be restricted from traveling on any day the weather was bad.  Look around many of the existing buildings and homes were built before there were thousands of pages of building codes that are still standing strong...most.  The only ones benefiting from over-regulation are building inspectors; plan reviewers, architects, designers, and government.  It is difficult to earn equity when you start with a loss of several thousands of dollars to building codes and unreasonable enforcement.


Building codes are so overreaching in their 7,000 plus pages that they contain several areas where common sense and logic are missing.  The extensive numbers of codes enable unscrupulous building inspectors to interpret its meaning in nearly any way they want.  The number of building code rules, and the lack of personal accountability, allow building inspectors to decide whether your project succeeds.  Building codes have value in framing the basic rules of a project, not every item imaginable.  Where is the logic in such a monstrosity of regulations?