Thanks to requirements that an exit route must be part of a permanent structure, Elvis always exited unscathed by overzealous fans. "Elvis has left the building." Without emergency exits, that famous phrase may not have become synonymous with silent yet dramatic exits. A backdoor emergency exit protects the elite from screaming fans, provides an egress path for common escapes seen in the movies, and saves lives during a fire.
OSHA requires three parts to a basic egress system.
- Exit access—the portion of egress that leads to an exit.
- Exit—the area in an egress system that is separated from the rest but leads away.
- Exit Discharge—the area between the end of an exit and a public way.
Let's say that the HR office is down the hall from an emergency exit. The HR office would be considered an exit access. The path you would take to get to the exit is also the exit access. Once you step into a doorway, or a fire rated stairwell—you are now in the exit.
Fire rated doors and stairwells defined.
An exit that connects three or fewer floors must have doors that can withstand a fire for one hour per OSHA standard 1910.36(a)(2). The same standard requires that exits connecting four or more stories have doors rated for 2-hour fire resistance found in 2-hour rated walls. Each fire door should have a label stating its temperature capacity.
An exit door must be unblocked.
Keeping exits clear is not only obvious, but it’s required by OSHA. It may seem like a no-brainer but it is surprisingly common for OSHA to deliver citations to employers involving blocked emergency-exit routes. Storage of boxes and furniture blocking doors, propped open exit doors, and blocked access to electrical panels are situations that OSHA inspectors encounter. This summer marked one full year since the Chinese poultry plant fire that killed more than 100 workers—due to locked or blocked exits. The spotlight on the disaster spurred OSHA to release a national memorandum on exit routes that same month.
Exit route checklist
- Use the checklist below from OSHA to ensure the safest routes and exits are available for your employees.
- Keep exit routes free of explosives or highly flammable furnishings and other decorations.
- Arrange exit routes so employees will not have to travel toward a high-hazard area unless the path of travel is effectively shielded from the high-hazard area.
- Ensure that exit routes are free and unobstructed by materials, equipment, locked doors, or dead-end corridors.
- Provide lighting for exit routes adequate for employees with normal vision. This is a great time to install photoluminescent way finding tape (aka “glow tape”).
- Keep exit route doors free of decorations or signs that obscure their visibility of exit route doors.
- Post signs along the exit access indicating the direction of travel to the nearest exit and exit discharge if that direction is not immediately apparent.
- Mark doors or passages along an exit access that could be mistaken for an exit “Not an Exit” or with a sign identifying its use (such as “Closet”).
- Renew fire-retardant paints or solutions when needed.
- Maintain exit routes during construction, repairs, or alterations.
If you are reading this article and don’t know off the top of your head how you would exit your workplace in an emergency, then it’s time start asking questions. Chances are if you aren’t clear on the exit path, then many of your colleagues aren’t either. Do you know where the nearest emergency exit is? Do you know where an alternative emergency exit is? Contact your HR or supervisor to re-evaluate your facility. Evaluations, and safety drills should be conducted at regular intervals. An emergency plan should be in place and ongoing communication will ensure that all employees understand what to do should the need for a emergency exit arise.