Return to Work: Setting a Reduced Occupancy Limit for Offices and Businesses

Governor John Bel Edwards announced Monday, May 11, that the Stay at Home order will be lifted and Louisiana will enter Phase One of the three-phase White House plan for economic recovery on Friday, May 15. Phase One requirements include limiting building occupancy—the number of people permitted in a room at a time—for offices and non-essential businesses to 25% of maximum occupancy. This occupancy reduction, while an imperfect metric that does not pertain to all businesses, further establishes physical distancing as an essential condition of economic reopening. Phase One will continue for at least 21 days, through June 5. 

If your building’s occupancy limit is not available to you on existing documents or posted in the facility, you can reach out to your fire department, parish, and/or municipality. Business owners can visit to find information on their occupancy limits. With crucial decisions for business reopening relying on this data, it is critical that the occupancy rate for each business in the state is readily available. 

BRAC anticipates that some businesses will not bother resuming operations at such a low occupancy rate, because doing so may increase their costs and further prevent them from being profitable. This is a major concern for business owners who are evaluating their businesses’ chances of survival and see the 25% limitation as both arbitrary and one-size-fits-all.  Businesses are also seeking information on how the limitation will be enforced, other than voluntary compliance, as those who comply we be put at a competitive disadvantage – revenue wise – to those who do not. 

Leaving that serious concern aside, every business should ensure they have an up-to-date and accurate maximum occupancy number for their locations on which to base their reduced occupancy allowance. Every building has an occupancy load, determined in accordance with the 2015 International Building Code standards and based on several factors including square footage, building use, and number and location of exits. Other considerations include placement of sprinkler systems and whether or not hazardous materials are present. In areas where seating is part of the function of the building, the number of fixed chairs, pews, or benches is also taken into account.  

Maximum occupancy should be posted prominently in your building, or listed on your original approved building plans. If you are unable to locate that information, contact the Louisiana State Fire Marshal. All structures in the state of Louisiana, except for one- and two-family dwellings and movables, are subject to inspection by the Fire Marshal for the purpose of reducing or eliminating fire hazards. If you are planning to open a business in your home that invites the public, such as a day care center or a hair or nail salon, then you are required to submit your plans to the State Fire Marshal for review, even if you are not intending to modify the structure. 

Arming yourself with information is vital to a successful reopening. BRAC is here to help prepare the business community to comply with the latest guidance and best practices, while also doing what is practical and safe for their employees and clients. 

Elizabeth Walker

As the Policy and Research Project Manager, Elizabeth Walker provides leadership on initiatives and policies, project management, research analysis and administration for initiatives that advance BRAC’s annual policy agenda.

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