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Fire Exits

By Graphic Products Editorial Staff

wall and door fire exit signs in a facility

If your building starts filling with smoke, how will you quickly get out? Do you know where the closest exits are? What if your first choice for a fire exit is blocked or jammed with too many people? Have you considered what to do if a fire exit happens to be locked, or the hallways leading to the fire exit is blocked by fire, debris, or a crowd of people? Thinking about the answers to these questions in advance could keep you safe during a fire or other emergency.

Fire Exit Tip #1:

Get some exercise on your lunch break by taking a walk through your building. Look for nearby fire exits, and identify alternate routes to fire exits.

What is an Exit Route?

OSHA defines an exit route as:

A continuous and unobstructed path of exit travel from any point within a workplace to a place of safety. An exit route consists of three parts:

• Exit access – portion of an exit route that leads to an exit.
• Exit – portion of an exit route that is generally separated from other areas to provide a protected way of travel to the exit discharge.
• Exit discharge – part of the exit route that leads directly outside or to a street, walkway, refuge area, public way, or open space with access to the outside.

The terms exits, fire exits, and emergency exits all have the same meaning.

Fire Exit Tip #2:

On your walk follow several exit routes to get out of your building. For example, walk down exit route stairs to become familiar with that exit route, including the exit discharge. Note: in many cases fire exit route discharge doors are locked from the outside. Once you go outside of the building, you may need to find your way to your normal building entrance.

Exit Route Requirements – The Number of Required Fire Exits

In most cases a workplace must have at least two fire exits. This ensures that employees, visitors, and other people in the building will be able to get out quickly during an emergency. Additional fire exits may be required based on the size of the building, the number of people normally in the building, and the arrangement of the interior of the building. What is important is that people can get out quickly and safely. The number and location of fire exits must be sufficient to accomplish this.

Exit Route Requirements – General Design Requirements

Fire Exit Tip #3:

Should you notice any of the following criteria not being met, report it immediately to your supervisor or other appropriate person.

An exit route is the path traveled to get to an exit. The following are the design requirements OSHA has established for various parts of fire exit routes in general:

  • Each exit discharge must go directly to the outside of the building or to an open space with access to the outside, or to a refuge area.
  • Each exit discharge must be large enough for the number of people likely to use that exit route.
  • The capacity (number of people) of an exit route may not decrease when moving in the direction people are going to exit the building.
  • Fire exit doors (exit route doors) must be unlocked from the inside. Fire exit doors must not include devices or alarms that might restrict the use of the exit route, if the device or alarm should fail.
  • If the stairs for an exit route continue beyond the level where the exit discharge is located, there must be a door, partition, or other effective means that clearly direct people to the exit discharge.
  • The ceiling in exit routes must be at least seven-and-a-half feet high.
  • The access to an exit route must be 28 inches wide, or greater, at all points.
  • The width of an exit must be sufficient to accommodate the people who will be using it. There must be no objects projecting into the exit that reduce its width.
  • If a room can be occupied by more than 50 people or if a room is a high-hazard area of the building, then side-hinged exit doors that swing out in the direction of travel, must be used to connect that room to an exit route.
  • Outdoor exit routes are permitted. Outdoor exit routes must meet the same minimum height and width requirement as required for indoor exit routes. In addition, outdoor exit routes must:
    • must have guardrails if a fall hazard exists,
    • be covered, if there is a potential for snow or ice to accumulate. This is not required if the employer can demonstrate ice and snow accumulations will always be removed before a slipping hazard exists.
    • have a smooth, solid, substantially level walking surface, and be reasonably straight.
    • not have a dead-end longer than 20 feet.

All exit routes must be permanent parts of the building.

Exit Route Requirements – Fire Exits

The exit portion of an exit route is the part of the route that is separated from other areas of the building. It provides a protected pathway out of the building.

  • Exits, such as stair wells, must be protected from other parts of the building by fire resistant materials. These materials must have a one-hour fire-resistance rating if the exit connects three or fewer floors in a building. If it connects more than three floors, it must have a two-hour fire-resistance rating.
  • Exits many only have the openings that are necessary to allow people into the exit from occupied areas of the building, and for people to discharge from the exit into a safe area (see above). All openings must have a self-closing, approved fire door. The fire door must either remain closed, or automatically close in an emergency.

Fire Exit Tip #4:

If you are in a crowded stairwell that is dark or filling with smoke, would you know how to find the exit discharge? Some exits have glow-in-the-dark signs, labels, and other markers placed close to the hand rails, floor, and stair treads. As you walk down an exit stairwell look for and become familiar with these labels and signs.

Exit Route Requirements – Keeping Fire Exits Safe

OSHA standards require that exit routes be maintained and kept safe. The following are the OSHA requirements for exit route safety:

  • Keep exit routes free of materials that are highly flammable or explosive. This includes materials such as curtains and other decorations.
  • Exit routes should be established such that people do not need to head towards a high-hazard area, unless that path of travel is effectively shielded from the high-hazard area. When modifying a building, do not establish a new high-hazard area such that people would be moving toward that area during an emergency.
  • All exit routes must remain unobstructed. Fire exit doors must never be blocked, even temporarily. Exit routes should never be blocked by any type of material, equipment, or locked doors, or have dead-end corridors.
  • All safeguards used to protect employees during an emergency must be maintained in good working order.
  • Exit routes should have lighting, including emergency lighting, that is adequate for employees with normal vision.
  • Don't decorate fire exit doors, even during major holidays. Be sure that fire exit signs and doors are never hidden or blocked by decorations or signs.
  • Post signs to show the direction of travel along each exit access, if the way to the nearest exit is not immediately obvious. The visibility of an exit sign must never be blocked.
  • Any door or passage that could be mistaken for an exit must be marked with a warning sign with wording such as “Not an Exit” or a sign that identifies the space on the other side of the door, such as a sign with the word “Closet”.
  • “EXIT” signs must be installed and have plainly legible letters. Consider using DuraLabel phosphorescent (glow-in-the-dark) supplies to make needed exit signs.
  • Renew fire-retardant paints, or solutions, as required by the manufacturer to ensure their fire-retardant properties remain effective.
  • Ensure exit routes comply with all of the above during construction, repairs, or building alterations.

Fire Exit Tip #5:

Notice any exit route or fire exit signs that are peeling, fading, damaged, or that are missing. Also notice locations where you cannot immediately find a way to a fire exit. Report these to your supervisor or other appropriate person so they can take corrective action.

Meeting Exit Route Requirements with DuraLabel

DuraLabel custom label printers and tough-tested supplies are the answer to exit route labeling and signs. For example, exit signs made with DuraLabel phosphorescent supplies do not need a power source to be seen during a power failure or other emergency. Other emergency signs, such as those marking fire extinguisher locations, are made with DuraLabel vinyl, the only brand of vinyl that gives you a warranty on your signs after they've been put in place.

Find out more about DuraLabel products by calling Graphic Products at 888.326.9244 today. 

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