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Emergency Exit Signs: Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is an emergency exit route?


According to OSHA, an emergency exit route or an exit route is a “continuous and unobstructed

path of exit travel from any point within a workplace to a place of safety”. OSHA identifies three parts of an exit route — exit access, exit, and exit discharge. Exit access leads to the exit that provides a protected way of travel to the exit discharge. The exit discharge leads directly outside or to a street, walkway, area of refuge, public way, or an open space with access to the outside.

Q. Are emergency exits governed by any OSHA standard?


Yes, they are. The OSHA standard 1910.36 covers the design and construction requirements for exit routes and also specifies the number of exit routes for different situations as well as the requirements for exit doors.

The requirements for exit routes’ maintenance, safeguards, and operational features are covered under 1910.37. This standard prescribes the need to minimize the danger for employees, proper lighting and marking of exit routes, and the requirement of an employee alarm system among other things.

Q. Do all workplaces require emergency exits?


As stated in the OSHA standard 1910.34, the exit routes and emergency planning requirements apply to all general industry workplaces other than mobile workplaces like vehicles or vessels. These requirements are detailed in standards 1910.34 through 1910.39.

Q. How many exit routes must a workplace have?


In most cases, a workplace is required to have at least two exit routes so that employees and other building occupants can promptly evacuate during an emergency. In situations where the number of employees, the size of the building, or other workplace arrangements may not allow employees to evacuate safely, more than two exit routes may be necessary. Certain cases may even permit a single exit route if the number of employees, the size of the building, its occupancy, or workplace arrangements permit safe evacuation of all employees.

Q. What are the OSHA requirements for exits?


OSHA requires that the exits be separated by materials that resist fire. These materials should have a one-hour fire-resistance rating for exits that connect three or fewer stories and a two-hour fire-resistance rating for exits that connect more than three floors.

Additionally, exits are allowed to have only those openings that are necessary to allow access to the exit from the occupied areas of the workplace or to the exit discharge. These openings must have a self-closing, approved fire door.

Q. Why is it necessary that fire exits and exit routes be clear and unblocked?


Fire exits and exit routes must be clear and unblocked to facilitate quick and safe exits during an emergency. Blockages and obstructions can cause delay, panic, and chaos, leading to accidents and injuries that otherwise could have been avoided. An OSHA requirement is to keep exit routes free from material or equipment obstructions, locked doors, and dead-end corridors. Signs for fire exit, evacuation, etc., play a key role in leading people to safety by providing a clear direction.

Q. Are emergency exit signs required by OSHA?


Yes, emergency exit signs are covered in the OSHA standard 1910.37(b). It requires every exit to be clearly visible and marked with a sign that reads “Exit”. The standard also goes into the details regarding sign placement, sign wording, illumination requirements, and other visibility considerations.

Q. Where should exit signs be posted?


According to OSHA 1910.37, emergency exit signs or signs should be posted on each exit. Where the direction of travel to the exit is not immediately apparent, a sign must be posted along the exit access to indicate the direction of travel to the nearest exit. These signs should be posted such that they command a clearly visible line of sight at all times.

Q. What are the NFPA requirements for exit signage?


NFPA 101 requires egress signage on exits other than main exterior doors that are not obvious and identifiable as exits. These signs must be visible irrespective of the direction one might be looking at them from. The signs must also be internally or externally illuminated, with a visual inspection of the illumination conducted at intervals of 30 days maximum. In settings where emergency lighting is necessary, the exit signs are also required to be supplied with emergency power.

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