Installation: Word of Warning
Copyright 2014 by Virgo Publishing.
By: Al Costantino
Posted on: 06/01/2003



 
In the wake of the fire that took place Feb. 20 at the Station Night Club in W. Warwick, R.I., taking 99 lives and causing injury to nearly 200, I would like to point out some facts related to the event. This tragedy has a direct correlation to the self-storage industry, particularly as it pertains to new construction. Although it is inconceivable to think a storage facility could experience such misfortune, injury and lawsuits resulting from construction are not uncommon.

Permits and Licenses

Permits, as required by law, were not secured for the pyrotechnic display the performing band used the night of the Station fire. If you are installing a door-alarm system and access-control gate at your facility, specific permits and licensing may be required by your state. Check with your local building officials and State Department of Business Regulation. Simply having an electrical permit for your electric service and lighting may not be enough to comply with the law.

The contractor doing the security installation may need a separate data-communication license. Some states require all workers on site have this license for low-voltage installation work. This would apply to door alarms and access-control gates. There may be a further requirement that all workers have a security badge, requiring their fingerprints be documented and registered with the FBI.

Once your security system is installed, you have the option to have an independent alarm company monitor the system and report to your local police station. Having an installation company with security-badge clearance is important, as you have a substantial investment in your facility. Asking your contractor to be properly permitted and licensed is a reasonable request.

Proper Insurance

After the Station fire, records indicated the night club had no worker's-compensation insurance. Most states have a law requiring a business have this coverage. If it does not, it can face civil and criminal penalties. The insurance is important for two main reasons:

  • It generally pays a portion of lost wages and provides medical coverage for a worker who suffers a work-related injury.
  • It generally protects a business and its owners from liability if a worker is injured or dies on the job. If a business does not have the coverage, a worker (or his estate) can seek to recover costs by suing the business and property owners directly. In addition, the business owners can be sued personally, "piercing the corporate veil" that typically shields them from liability.

If your security subcontractor "business owner only" is exempt by law, request a copy of the waiver he had to sign with his insurance company. Always have a Certificate of Insurance on file before he mobilizes on site. Also, be listed as an "additional insured" on the certificate. This allows you to correspond with the insurance carrier. You are entitled by law to be listed as an additional insured. Again, you have a substantial investment in your property. Make sure your contractors are properly insured.

Safety and Liability

Blame is being pointed at just about everyone related to the Station fire. The costs of the litigation may exceed the limits of the insurance policies. If someone is injured while working on your property, what precautions did you take to prevent this from happening? To simply comply with the law is not enough. Most self-storage facilities have automated security gates. One crucial precaution is to comply with UL 325.

What is UL? Underwriting Laboratories Inc. is a not-for-profit organization that was established in 1894. Its primary mission is to "evaluate products in the interest of public safety." A UL label is not generic--it represents a brand name, and there are other organizations that provide safety-testing standards. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, electrical equipment is acceptable if it is listed by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. UL 235 is a specific code standard that addresses the prevention of personal injury from automatic gates.

For example, UL 325 states that gates with picket spacing of more than 2.5 inches requires a safety mesh. There are many other safety standards within the UL 325 listing. It is voluntary for a manufacturer of gates and gate operators to participate in the UL process. However, in the future, states or municipalities may mandate the code standard. If you are ever sued for a workplace injury related to facility security and its installation, make sure you took all the steps possible to prevent it.

Al Costantino, owner of Northern RI Self Storage Inc., is new to the self-storage industry. With a background in government and commercial contracting, he is currently building a 100,000-square-foot facility in Smithfield, R.I. For more information, call 401.232.1000.