Empty hospital corridorI recently received this Quick Question from a locksmith at a university medical center:

On patient room doors in a hospital, is it code-compliant to install traditional classroom function locksets which allow free egress from the room?

Although traditional classroom function locksets are no longer recommended for classroom doors in schools, they do have their place.  This function would allow hospital staff to lock a patient room door using a key, and would always allow free egress.  My gut feeling was “yes” – this would be permitted by the model codes, but it turns out that this question is specifically answered in both the NFPA codes and the I-Codes.

In NFPA 101, the answer is found in both the new and existing health care chapters: Locks shall not be permitted on patient sleeping room doors, unless otherwise permitted by one of the following:
(1) Key-locking devices that restrict access to the room from the corridor and that are operable only by staff from the corridor side shall be permitted, provided that such devices do not restrict egress from the room.
(2) Locks complying with shall be permitted.

The NFPA 101 Handbook states that staff can unlock the doors with keys that they keep readily available, and isolation rooms are one example of the type of room that might be locked.  However, some health care facilities are now locking the patient rooms to deter theft.  Whatever the reason for locking the room, the doors must typically allow free egress from the inside without the use of a key, tool, special knowledge, or effort (read on for exceptions).

The International Building Code (IBC) addresses this issue in the special detailed requirements for Group I-2:

407.4.1.1 Locking devices. Locking devices that restrict access to a care recipient’s room from the corridor and that are operable only by staff from the corridor side shall not restrict the means of egress from the care recipient’s room.
1. This section shall not apply to rooms in psychiatric treatment and similar care areas.
2. Locking arrangements in accordance with Section 1010.2.14.

The IBC Commentary reiterates that egress from the room must not be restricted, and that it is expected that the staff will have access from the corridor side, via key or “other opening device.”  For behavioral health facilities or other areas where patients require containment for their safety or security, both sets of model codes allow controlled egress locks if certain criteria are met.  In most facilities the controlled egress locks are electrified, but in some cases the model codes allow mechanical locks that prevent egress.

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