When it comes to your fire code and safety inspection services, the Authority Having Jurisdiction (commonly known as AHJ) plays a vital role in certifying that the fire and life safety systems in your building are up to date and up to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) codes standards.
Many of us – whether a business owner, employee, or just a curious human reading this blog – generally don’t know who their AHJ is, let alone what “Authority Having Jurisdiction” even means. Here’s where we swoop in and save the day.
Inspect Point cares and wants to make sure you know what to do when (or if) the AHJ in your district comes knocking. The following tips will help you know what to expect, prepare for and understand so that you can answer that door feeling confident and comfortable with the fire inspection process for your building.
Understand the NFPA Standards and Codes
First and foremost, it’s important to understand what an AHJ is. According to the NFPA 701 codes and standards, an authority having jurisdiction is defined as “an organization, office, or individual responsible for enforcing the requirements of a code or standard, or for approving equipment, materials, an installation, or a procedure.” Essentially, this means that the AHJ serves primarily as an official responsible for code interpretation, enforcement, and implementation.
The United States’ codes and standards development process can be confusing. Unlike many other countries, there is no federal government code, so your AHJ requirements may differ depending on where your building is located. Furthermore, the codes your AHJ is employed to enforce can differ depending on which edition of the code your jurisdiction has adopted. It’s essential to recognize that once a code is adopted by a jurisdiction, it essentially should be noted as law for that jurisdiction.
Know What Your Authority Having Jurisdiction Requires
For your benefit, it’s good to be aware your authority having jurisdiction’s role could very well be several different individuals, offices or other municipalities given authority. The requirements your AHJ is employed to enforce depend mostly on the type of building or property. Their main objective is to evaluate the overall condition of the fire, life, and electric safety performance on your property and to confirm or request that it meets those up-to-date expectations.
Specifically, under the NFPA 701 annexes, it’s noted that “where public safety is primary, the AHJ may be a federal, state, local, or other regional department or individual such as a fire chief; fire marshal; chief of a fire prevention bureau, labor department, or health department; building official; electrical inspector; or others having statuary authority.” Assuming your property is insured, the insurance company may also serve as the authority having jurisdiction.
The NFPA notes the most common AHJ is usually the “property owner or his or her designated agent” who takes on the AHJ role. Specifically, for government installations, the commanding officer or departmental official can also assume the AHJ role.
The Building Operating Management & Facility Maintenance Decisions (BOMFMD) magazine provides a clear example: think of commercial buildings – a hospital, for instance, would likely be subjected to multiple AHJ sectors’ approvals primarily because of the high-rate safety services they provide. The BOMFMD Magazine breaks down what all of this means for the AHJ relation on a local, state, federal, and private level here:
- Local government: building department, fire department
- State government: state fire marshal, state health department
- Federal government: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
- Private sector: insurance company, third party certification/accreditation organizations
Compliance is Key When Working with the Authority Having Jurisdiction
As mentioned previously, the NFPA requires fire inspections primarily where public safety is at potential risk. That’s not to say your property serves as a public risk – but your authority having jurisdiction is only there to corroborate this.
Keep in mind, their main objective is not meant to hassle you or burden your business, but rather it is their duty to verify your building is safe for everyone. If your AHJ expects you to make changes, it is wholly intended for the best interest of you as an owner, your occupants and/or customers, as well as your community as a whole.
In case of an emergency, any requested modifications also benefit the first responders. For instance, if a fire was to start in your building, first responders are going to assume your life safety systems are up to date. If you have failed to follow AHJ instructions, a first responders’ ability to take control of a possibly dangerous situation could be compromised. Not only is this a disservice in respect to overall safety, but potential legal ramifications may follow, in which case, you may already be out of luck.
To reiterate, your AHJ has your best interests in mind as well as the interests of other involved parties.
Get to Know Your AHJ and Keep Them Around
In the most general sense, if you’re a building owner, your AHJ is an ally – so it’s important to treat them as such and take them seriously when they perform inspections. Keeping an open mind and providing the upmost transparency when relaying information pertaining to the building is crucial in maintaining a positive relationship with your AHJ, as well as the safety of anyone who goes into that building.
Sustaining a positive relationship with your AHJ(s) additionally provides you the opportunity to know your building inside and out in a way that will help you to conserve the integrity of the building and therefore your business. It will also help you in case something goes wrong – you’ll be able to effectively communicate where the issue is so as to provide the persons in charge of fixing or inspecting the issue all of the facts. Good for you, but also good for your AHJ to know too.
Preserving this close relationship with your AHJ will also help to ensure they uphold that allied bond as well. Remember, your AHJ isn’t your enemy, your AHJ is your friend! It’s up to you to maintain a good rapport – no matter the condition of your building(s), a good relationship with the AHJ can only improve the situation.
Document Inspections/Correspondences and Follow Up
Lastly, our final tip in retaining this positive relationship is to document, document, document! Again, it’s as beneficial for you as it is the AHJ when you both are on (literally) the same page. Take notes during inspections, save all paperwork, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Chances are, if you lack the knowledge, you’ll be left wondering what to do when your AHJ shows up. At Inspect Point, we don’t want that to happen. After all, your success is our success – we can mutually agree a safe building is the best kind of building.