Help Wanted: Crowded cubicle layout may still meet fire codes

Doing the work of several employees? Have a Doing the work of several employees? Have a sit-down en masse with your managers who need to know or be reminded about how frustrating it is to try to stretch oneself to do work once handled by more than 10 times your number. Photo Credit: iStock

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Carrie Mason-Draffen Newsday columnist Carrie Mason Draffen

Mason-Draffen, a business reporter, writes a column about workplace issues. ...

DEAR CARRIE: I work in an office that was recently redesigned to replace desks with cubicles. Previously, 10 staff employees and two supervisors worked in the area. Now the same space holds 20 cubicles, an office for a supervisor and a conference room that seats up to 12 people. The office still has just one entrance/exit at the far end of the room. My colleagues and I believe that if we had to evacuate the building, the lone exit wouldn't be enough for all of us to get out safely. Is there an agency we might ask to come to inspect for compliance?

-- Rescue Me

DEAR RESCUE: I spoke with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration's head for Long Island, Anthony Ciuffo. He said your company might be in compliance.

"Based on the limited information provided in regard to size of space and occupancy indicated, the employer may be in compliance with the OSHA standard," Ciuffo said.

But other factors have to be considered, too, he said, before an absolute determination could be made about the safety of your office.

He cited some guidelines from the National Fire Protection Association, some of whose standards OSHA enforces. Those guidelines permit a single-exit office with a much higher occupancy rate than yours, but with some caveats.

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"A single exit shall be permitted for a room or area with a total occupant load of fewer than 100 persons," the citation says. But four criteria must also be met. They include the total distance an employee must travel from the most remote point in the room to an exit.

"The total distance of travel from any point [to the exit] shall not exceed 100 feet," the citation says.

Another of the criteria says that exits "must lead directly outside or to a street, walkway, refuge area, public way or open space with access to the outside."

For the other criteria and other information on exits, see the column's online link to an OSHA fact sheet. You can also call OSHA at 516-334-3344.

Ciuffo also noted that other factors such as firewalls, sprinklers and fire-detection systems would figure into a compliance determination.

Even though your new office configuration might meet OSHA standards, it could fall short of more stringent local regulations, Ciuffo said. He suggests you contact the office of the local fire marshal for other compliance concerns.

 

DEAR CARRIE: I work for a nonprofit health group. We are nonunion. Each week, I work four days of seven hours each and 10 hours on Thursdays. All the sick, personal and vacation days we accrue are based on the seven-hour days. But when I take a vacation or sick day on a Thursday, the company pays me the 10 hours I would have worked. Yet, when a holiday we have off falls on a Thursday, such as Thanksgiving, I get paid seven hours only. So that leaves me three hours short. Is it legal for the company to do this? I would call human resources, but the company is too big, and I am not sure if I will get a clear answer. -- Short Shrift

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DEAR SHORT SHRIFT: Your company is actually generous and gives you much more than state labor law requires. For starters, companies don't have to offer paid time off. And without that benefit, your employer could legally not pay you when you don't work. Hourly employees have to be paid only for the time they work. So paying you for seven hours when you don't work is generous. Paying you for 10 hours when you don't work, even with the exclusion you mentioned, puts you in rarefied territory these days. It may not feel like it, but you are looking a gift horse in the mouth.

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