Health & Safety Watch: Emergency Exit Compliance

Many employers believe that it is enough to post a sign over a door and call it an emergency exit, but OSHA sees it otherwise. Emergency exits are officially known as Exit Routes and consist of three parts, all of which must be in compliance with federal laws and regulations.

  1. Exit access – This is the part of the route that leads up to the exit.
  2. Exit – This part provides protection on the way to the exit discharge.
  3. Exit discharge – The final part leads outside or to an open space with access to the outside.

Exit Routes by Number

Generally speaking, most businesses are required to have at least two exit routes for employees, but more may be necessary depending on the size of the building, number of employees or other factors that would not allow for the safe evacuation of the workplace. On the other hand, very small companies in small but open buildings may only need one exit route.

In order to determine whether “the number of employees, the size of the building, its occupancy, or the arrangement of the workplace is such that all employees would be able to evacuate safely during an emergency,” OSHA refers to the employer guidance from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Life Safety Code and International Fire Code.

Key Requirements

The complete design and construction requirements for exit routes follow these key guidelines:

  • The exit access, exit and discharge must be large enough for all likely users to fit through safely. This means ceilings must be at least 7 ft., 6 in. tall and 28 in. wide. Additionally, the width of the exit and exit discharge must be equal in size or larger than the exit discharge in most cases.
  • Exit stairs to other floors must be closed by doors or partitions that indicate the safe direction of travel.
  • Exits must remain unlocked at all times, or a panic bar must be in place that locks the door only from the outside.
  • Exit doors must side-hinged and swing out toward the direction of travel if the area is designed to by occupied by more than 50 people.
  • Exits must be separated by materials that provide one hour of fire resistance for three or fewer stories and two hours of fire resistance for four or more stories.

Emergency Action Plan

All procedures for evacuation and the use of exit routes must be part of a company’s emergency action plan. Employers with 10 or fewer workers may communicate this plan verbally while those with more than 10 employees must have a plan in writing.

For further information, please read the official OSHA Fact Sheet on Emergency Exit Routes.

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